Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – RiverMead CEO Bill James set to retire | #retirement | #elderly | #seniors
When RiverMead CEO Bill James first interviewed for the position at the Peterborough retirement community, he immediately knew it would be the right place to end his career.
Taking the job meant a move from his native Pennsylvania, but he felt so strongly about the organization and its vision for the future that when the offer came there was no question how he’d respond – even if meant uprooting his life.
And for the last eight years, James has embraced his leadership role of shepherding the lifecare community into the next phase of its existence. It has meant a lot of long days, many difficult decisions, but as James sets to retire on April 30 from the top position at RiverMead, he looks back at the last eight years with great pride.
“I can’t imagine concluding my career in a better place,” James said.
James said he jokes with people about why he didn’t choose Dec. 31, 2019 as his final day because 2020 was “incredibly difficult” after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since last March there have been plenty of tough calls he had to make that affected a lot of people. It was filled with stress and uncertainty because there was no game plan, no guidebook to navigate a community like RiverMead through a global health crisis of this magnitude.
“There was no experience to draw on,” James said. So, he used his skills to make plans in the best interest of every resident and staff member.
The biggest thing that kept James up at night was that overwhelming sense of loss that the restrictions and guidelines created.
“People move to a community like RiverMead because of that word, community,” James said. “And at the snap of a finger we closed everything down. We took away that community and that’s the hardest thing. I absolutely believe it was done in everybody’s best interest, but knew it had the potential for negative impact.”
And he did it without knowing when things could go back to normal. But in the same breath, James said it was a rewarding year because he saw the staff step up to the challenge and the residents roll with the punches.
He worried about the health and safety of everyone at RiverMead, and it led to some anxiety awaiting COVID-19 testing results.
“What if we have an outbreak? What if a great percentage of our employees and residents test positive?” James said. While RiverMead was not COVID free, he felt overall the success in keeping the virus at bay was there.
Before coming to RiverMead, James worked at a continuing care and retirement community in his native Pennsylvania and another in Delaware. But his time in the healthcare world was actually his second career.
Prior to that he worked 16 years with the Farm Credit System, lending money to farmers. James grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and felt a real need to help those in the agriculture sector. But as he climbed the corporate ladder, he got further away from directly connecting with the farmers, the people he so desperately wanted to aid.
His wife Sally worked in a retirement community in Southeast Pennsylvania and James saw how much she enjoyed it.
“She loved the work, the people she worked with,” he said. So he decided to make a career change.
As he began his second career, James saw the benefits of working in a long-term community environment.
“I quickly found I was back communicating with my customers,” James said. “I was directly communicating with the people I was responsible for serving.”
James was attracted to both the Monadnock region and RiverMead when he first came to discuss the position and when the job offer was made, he felt very fortunate.
“I just had a really good strong feeling of where the organization was, where it had been and what the potential was for the future,” James said. “You can sense a culture of an organization and it had a really wonderful feeling for me.”
Taking the job meant a move away from Pennsylvania, where he had spent a good portion of his life. But that’s just how strongly he felt about the mission at RiverMead.
At the time of his hire, RiverMead was nearing the end of the Village campus project, but even with the community undergoing such a transformation, discussion about the future was a big topic of the conversation.
“It’s an organization with vision,” James said. “And I really felt RiverMead had a bright future.”
Not only did James get a sense of how the community could grow, but also felt a strong connection between all the stakeholders involved.
“I sensed a tremendous drive to advocate for the residents and staff,” he said. “And I feel like it’s been that way every day.”
During his tenure, James oversaw the final stages of the Village project, additional residences added to the Village campus, a renovation to the dining venue, the construction of a fitness center, an addition to the health center and now the renovation of the existing health center.
While James has enjoyed his time as CEO, the third in RiverMead’s history, he felt it was time to step away. He turned 70 last fall and began having conversations with the board of trustees about his timeline for retiring.
“I am fortunate to be able to have done this as long as I have, but it’s time,” James said. “I love the work. I really enjoyed it.”
In his role, James was tasked with advancing the organization, while not losing sight of what’s truly important.
“My role is to advocate for this older adult population and advocate for the employees who provide that critical service,” he said. “I’m tremendously proud of the quality of work people do and the level of care they provide.”
And after his eight years, James felt he accomplished just that.
“I feel I’ve been able to have a positive and significant impact during my eight years,” James said. “I’m proud of what we as an organization have been able to do under my leadership.”
The decision to retire, though, was bittersweet.
“I will definitely miss the people, the relationships I have been able to develop with so, so many people,” he said. “I will miss the exchanges I have with residents and staff on an ongoing basis.”
Riding off into retirement will be an adjustment for James, but he is ready for his next chapter. He and Sally plan to stay in the Keene area they have called home for almost a decade, but at some point there will likely be a move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to family.
But in the interim, James plans to continue his volunteer work, where he serves on the board of the Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber, and was chair of the task force that worked on the recent merger. James is also on the board of Monadnock Community Hospital and the Keene Community Kitchen, and serves on the Franklin Pierce University advisory board for the college of business.
“My parents did a lot of volunteer work when we were kids,” James said. “We had the upbringing of giving back to the community.”
There will be plenty to keep him busy, but come May 1, when he doesn’t have to make that drive from Keene to Peterborough, it will be a chance for James to sit back and reflect on his time at RiverMead.
“And I’ll look back humbly and with a great sense of pride,” he said.