His love of learning and teaching others was lifelong, and this allowed him to immerse himself in a wide variety of professional endeavors. Early in his career, Jim taught seventh grade at Ludlow Junior High and worked in community action programs, including the Commonwealth Service Corps, and as director of the Holyoke Program for the Aging. From 1967 to 1975, he was a special assistant and an advance man to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He traveled extensively and met with many world leaders, but he never took them, or himself, too seriously. On one occasion, Jim met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. As the conversation developed, Jim’s presence and humor morphed Brezhnev’s stern demeanor into laughter. Jim made many people laugh-a lot!
Jim worked next as Director of Community Affairs for the MBTA. There he developed a strong understanding of transportation that led to his appointment by President Carter as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a post he held until January 1982. At the NTSB, Jim championed many safety improvements. In one instance, frustrated by inaction, Jim had a train car with a proposed safety device placed at the entry to Capitol Hill. Members of Congress passed it on their way to work and soon after that mandated the safety device nationwide, saving many lives.
In 1991 Jim was named Chief of Staff to Senator John Kerry in Boston. In 1993 President Clinton brought him back to Washington as Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where he used a wheelbarrow to ceremoniously scrap an obsolete 10,000-page personnel manual.
Outside of public service, he held positions as Associate Vice President at Harvard University, Senior Vice President at Northeastern University, and as a Presidential Fellow at Trinity College. Jim was a Fellow of Harvard’s Institute of Politics and was a visiting fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.
In “semi” retirement, Jim was a proud member of Northern Ireland’s Experts Panel, which made recommendations on how Northern Ireland should be governed consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. His ideas contributed to the creation of a government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists shared power.
Even when Jim retired, he never slowed down. He was a professional volunteer and loved working with earth and stone. He was a daily communicant of Holy Family Parish, a volunteer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and a Eucharistic minister who visited local nursing homes. He served as a board member at St. Peter’s Club in Gloucester and was appointed to the Town of Rockport Personnel Board.
James is survived by his devoted wife Eleanor (Whitney) of Rockport; his beloved sister Almeda King Ambrulevich of Dover, N.H.; and his five loving children and their families, Edward, wife Deborah, children, James, Andrew, and Caroline of Gloucester; Sean, wife Amy, and son Peter of Newburyport; Kathleen, husband Deiric O’Broin, and daughter Sarah of Dublin, Ireland; Anthony, wife Helen Ryan, sons Aidan and Owen of Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Patrick, his wife Esther, sons Noah, Carter, and Hugo of Blessington, Ireland.
As the son of a mill worker who later became a union leader, Jim never lost sight of who he was or where he came from. He died with his work boots on, and that’s the way he wanted to go.
We are blessed to have known Jim and welcome you to join us:
Visiting hours will take place at St. Joachim’s Church, 56 Broadway, Rockport, on Friday, June 14, from 4 to 8 p.m. Family and friends are cordially invited. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Joachim’s Church at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 15. Burial is in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in North Andover, Mass. There will be a pre-Mass collation from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Rockport Community Center, adjacent to St Joachim’s. All are invited.
Memorial donations in his memory are welcome. The following are two of his favorites: Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, 70 Pleasant Street, Gloucester, MA 01930; and Day by Day Adult Care, 4R Blackburn Center, Gloucester, MA 01930. Arrangements are by the Greely Funeral Home, 212 Washington St., Gloucester, MA. For more information, or to leave an online condolence, please visit www.greelyfuneralhome.com.
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