James Iley McCord, clergyman, educator, and ecumenist, son of Marshal Edward and Jimmie (Decherd) McCord, was born in Rusk, Texas, on November 24, 1919. He was educated at Austin College (B.A., 1938; Ph.D., 1949), the University of Texas, (M.A., 1942), and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (B.D., 1942) and ordained by the Brazos Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on April 22, 1942. Following a brief stint as instructor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, McCord returned to Austin Seminary as professor of systematic theology and academic dean, positions he held from 1944 to 1959. During 1944–45 and 1952–53 he was interim pastor at the University Presbyterian Church in Austin. He was called to Princeton Theological Seminary as president in 1959 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1983. During his tenure the student body doubled in size and faculty increased by nearly a third. At Princeton he served for a number of years as president of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. After retirement McCord established and became chancellor of an independent Center for Theological Inquiry on the seminary campus, a research institution for theologians, scientists, and leaders in other disciplines to work together on similar projects.
McCord's influence extended far beyond the bounds of the educational institutions he served and his denominational affiliations. An avid supporter of national and international ecumenism, he represented his denomination in Amsterdam in 1948 when the World Council of Churches was organized. Subsequently, he was a delegate to numerous ecumenical conferences in the United States and overseas. He was for many years chairman and member of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, chairman of the North American Area Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and first chairman of the Consultation on Church Union, an effort to unite the major Protestant denominations in the United States. For nearly twenty-five years he served as chairman of the Editorial Council of Theology Today and was the author of articles in other theological and educational journals. He was also editor of Supplementa Calviniana (Calvin's hitherto unpublished sermons) and coeditor of Service in Christ, Marburg Revisited, and The Phenomenon of Convergence and the Course of Prejudice. A dynamic speaker, McCord traveled extensively, lecturing and preaching in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Czechoslovakia, South America, and Hungary, as well as in the United States. He received twenty-one honorary degrees from institutions around the world, including Knox College, the University of Toronto, and the University of Geneva. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the international religious community, in 1986 McCord received the John M. Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. After retiring in 1989 for health reasons, he died on February 19, 1990, in Princeton, New Jersey. He was preceded in death by his wife, Hazel (Thompson), whom he married on August 29, 1939. The McCords had three children.