Jimmy Davis-Goff: Death of an adventurer with an ‘all-encompassing sense of life’

Davis-Goff was just 34 when he died in a helicopter accident in the Swiss Alps

Born May 23rd, 1989

Died April 2nd, 2024

James ‘Jimmy’ Davis-Goff worked with the United Nations, volunteered for several charities and travelled the world before he died in a helicopter accident in the Alps, aged 34. After his death his many friends recalled his infectious energy, adventurous spirit and ability to find magic in the most mundane of things.

He was the youngest of four children born to Sir Robert and Lady Sheelagh Davis-Goff, of Ballinacor Estate in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. His sister Sarah is an author and the co-founder of Tramp Press, while his maternal ancestors founded Chadwicks, the builders’ providers.


He spent his early years in Seafield House, a Palladian mansion in Donabate, and in nearby Lissen Hall, before the family moved to the Isle of Man when he was eight. An adventurous child, he was always outdoors, running around with his older siblings and completing urgent missions on bikes and tractors. He spent so much time swimming that he earned the nickname Duck.

In keeping with the family tradition, he attended Headfort School, in Kells, Co Meath, but took a different path afterwards when he opted to go to Gordonstoun in Scotland for his second-level education. Known for its emphasis on outdoor activities, it is the alma mater of King Charles III and other members of the royal family.

From an early age he was determined to conquer any challenge he met. He had a stammer but overcame it to such an extent that he won prizes for public speaking in school. And despite having dyslexia, he studied at numerous universities and accumulated many academic qualifications. Tributes paid to him noted how he wrung every ounce of fun out of college life and managed to walk a tightrope between class clown and model student.

His lengthy academic career began with a business course at Edinburgh College. While thinking about his next move, he worked as a ski instructor in Switzerland and with a safari camp in South Africa.

He was drawn back to academia when he did a degree in property economics at TU Dublin, Bolton Street. This was when he inadvertently found his calling. He spent an Erasmus semester in Groningen in the Netherlands and his penchant for attending other people’s classes introduced him to the world of international relations.

This brought him to the University of San Francisco, where he completed a master’s in international relations and did an internship with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. He went on to work with the United Nations, first in Geneva with its Mine Action Service, and later as a micro business development officer in Zimbabwe. He followed this with a job as project development officer in Lebanon.

Former colleagues in the office of the International Organisation for Migration in Beirut remembered him as someone who took his work seriously, but never took himself too seriously. Former colleague and friend Rana Dash said he was a happy presence in the office. “I remember the huge smile on his face every morning,” she said.

His family said it was impossible to sum up his life, but it was clear that he spent a lot of his time thinking about how best he could help people

On one occasion they were involved in a security training exercise that simulated a kidnapping, and she recalled how he offered himself to the kidnappers in order to save the rest of the team, a gesture that encapsulated his kind nature.

He completed bomb disposal and landmine clearance courses in Kosovo and helped to build a community kitchen in Lebanon. Concerned about the struggles facing the Lebanese Red Cross in coping with a refugee crisis in 2022, he climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland to raise funds for the organisation. He had what he described as “zero mountaineering background and a healthy hatred of heights” but after training with a patient mountain guide, he completed the challenge.

His involvement in charity work stretched back to his school days. During his student years in San Francisco he volunteered with San Francisco City Impact, which helps needy people in the underprivileged Tenderloin district. A few years earlier he ran the London Marathon to raise funds for the Outward Bound Trust, an educational charity he supported for many years.

He returned to university in 2021 to complete a master’s in public administration (international security and management) at Columbia University in New York. He was remembered as a lively and engaging classmate. Columbia professor and former mayor of Philadelphia Prof Michael Nutter expressed his sadness at the sudden death. “I so enjoyed Jimmy as a student in our class – his smile, his thoughts and ideas,” he said. “He was engaging and had that all-encompassing sense of life about him.”

Days before he died, he had interviewed for a job at the British Red Cross so he could be closer to his partner, Joyce Raboca, a Paris-based lawyer. The couple met in New York while they were both attending university.

He was in the Swiss Alps for a skiing trip when he died. The helicopter pilot Jerome Lovey and guide Adam George also died in the incident, while three passengers survived. The helicopter was dropping the skiers at the summit of the Petit Combin mountain when it slid down the northern slope. The incident is being investigated by the Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board in collaboration with the Valais police force.

His family said it was impossible to sum up his life, but it was clear that he spent a lot of his time thinking about how best he could help people. “He dedicated his life to helping,” his online memorial page, administered by Joyce Raboca, notes. “Not just helping those he knew but also those he never met or would meet.” His memorial service will be held in Wicklow this summer.

Jimmy Davis-Goff is survived by his partner, Joyce Raboca; his parents, Sir Robert and Lady (Sheelagh) Davis-Goff; siblings William, Sarah and Henry; and extended family.