The James Gray Story

James Gray lived a rather glamorous life, one could say, serving the crème de la crème of British society as an executive butler. Raised in one of Ireland’s notorious industrial schools, James embraced domestic work and went on to serve in some of the most luxurious estates and castles, supporting global dignitaries such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister John Major, along with Britain’s royal family. The personal photos in his home are evidence of a fast-paced former life of parties, traveling, and the exhilarating feeling of being at the center of elite culture. Yet now, at age 85 and living alone at home in London, all James wanted for Christmas was some company.

The last time James Gray had seen anyone on Christmas Day was ten years ago, when he visited his accountant. Without any relatives, and all his friends either deceased or relocated to faraway lands, James wanted to avoid last year’s Christmas routine: a solo dinner of smoked salmon and prawns, and finally some television to drown out the melancholy silence. He had an idea… what if he put an advertisement in the paper asking for guests? According to James, “All I was looking for with my advert was half-a-dozen pensioners to have Christmas dinner with so I would not be lonely once again this year.” With some help from the Irish Post, James got much, much more than that – hundreds of cards and letters from all over the world, and a nice couple that devoted their entire Christmas Day to keeping James company.

James’ predicament is, unfortunately, extremely common among seniors in the Western world, who are more and more likely to be aging without any children or relatives on which to count, and a social support system that naturally gets frayed over time. The natural antidote to this age-related isolation is senior cohousing, a tight-knit community that can make sure none of its members are lonely, not on holidays or any other day. James Gray was lucky that his story received publicity, which led to him getting the company he so desired. Millions of other seniors are not quite as lucky, which is why we encourage everyone to look into senior cohousing, whether at Phoenix Commons or elsewhere, as part of their retirement planning.