James Ray Phelps

james  phelps
James (Jim) R. Phelps passed away on April 2, 2022, at the age of 83, after a brief but courageous battle with cancer. He died peacefully in his home with his wife, Sophia, by his side.

Jim was born on December 1, 1938 in East Bernstadt, Kentucky. He was the only son of Fredrick Phelps and Evelyn Bowling Phelps.

Jim attended the University of Cincinnati and its school of law. After law school, he served as an officer in the Military Intelligence branch of the US Army. He was stationed in Germany during the Cold War and often spoke of how much he valued his experience in the Army.

After leaving the Army in 1965, Jim started a long and successful career in the law. He started out as a government trial attorney, first with the Food and Drug Administration and then as an Assistant US Attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1969, he moved to Chicago and started in private practice with a focus on food and drug law. In 1977, he became vice president and general counsel of the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle.

On March 17, 1980, Jim, along with Paul Hyman and Bob Dormer, founded the firm of Hyman & Phelps, PC (later Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, PC, or “HPM”). HPM grew to be one of the country’s premier law firms specializing in food and drug law and was one of Jim’s proudest achievements. Jim loved the partners, associates, and staff at HPM and considered them some of his best friends. He retired from active practice in 2010, on the firm’s 30th anniversary.

Over the years, Jim’s law practice extended to all areas of the food and drug bar. He also advised clients on matters involving controlled substances domestically and internationally, handling matters before the World Health Organization, the International Narcotics Control Board, and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Jim was a member of the US National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 1983 to 1985. He was also General Counsel of the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society from 1982 to 2002.

Jim lived a full life and had many passions besides the law. He could always be found with a book nearby at home, often a historical work on the Civil War or European history. He loved golf and spent many weekends (and weekdays) on the course with family and friends. He always enjoyed nature and found ways to connect with it over the years. He would take many walks with his sons from his house to the Potomac River and would drive alone for hours, or days, to find just the right spot to photograph the birds in which he found so much beauty.

But, most of all, Jim was a family man. He was a devoted and loving husband, father, and grandfather.

Jim will be lovingly remembered by his wife, Sophia, his three sons and their wives, Evan and Nikki, Morgan and Mij, Michael and Kimberly, and their children. Jim was an inspiration to his loved ones and they will continue to honor his legacy by living their lives to the fullest.

A memorial for Jim will be held at the River Bend Club, 375 Walker Rd., Great Falls, VA 22066 on April 28, 2022 at 11am. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bethany Phelps Memorial Fund at BraveBethany.org.

View current weather.

Memories Timeline


  1. I remember playing tennis with Jim years ago on the Wednesday night men’s event. More recently playing golf with him and seeking advice on visiting Vienna. I always enjoyed my interactions with Jim. George Wisecarver

  2. I just l learned of Jim Phelps passing a week ago through a friend who was a partner in his firm. Jim graciously agreed to represent me in the early 1990s, even though I was a relatively low-level government employee at the time, and had never met him. His help made all the difference at a time when I felt overwhelmed. He not only was an excellent lawyer, but provided very sage advice and support throughout the entire ordeal. He won my case, but even more importantly helped restore my faith in the decency of people. He was truly a great man. The world needs more people like him. Brad Stone

Sign the Guestbook, Light a Candle

Accessibility Tools