James W. “Jim” Borden, a treasure in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, died on Monday, November 1. Born on June 8, 1954 in Fayetteville, NC, he was 67 and lived on Mount Vernon Street.
Jim seemingly knew most residents of Beacon Hill and had helped many of them, working in their gardens, painting their walls, wallpapering, helping them move, hanging their pictures, checking in on them if they were indisposed, supervising contractors, installing air conditioning, serving as a bartender for their parties and managing the flowers for a daughter’s wedding, said Beacon Street resident Chris Clyde, who had known Jim for at least 25 years as he helped her negotiate moves and house maintenance.
Jim came from Chambersburg, PA, his childhood home, to Boston after high school graduation in 1972. He attended the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services but did not stick around for graduation, reported his friend and fellow stoop-sitter, Phil Short.
Instead he took a job as a waiter at the former Charles Restaurant, now known as 75 Chestnut, and later became a stalwart at the long-ago Charles Street florist, Victorian Bouquet. When that shop closed after the owner’s death, Jim’s work had already introduced him to many customers who valued his discerning eye for beauty and balance and talent at producing gardens and window box displays all over the Hill. They also admired his effectiveness at getting carpenters, window washers and all kinds of people to help maintain their homes.
Lynne Wolverton, the proprietor of Linens on the Hill, remembers him helping her settle into her house in Milton, driving there in his Saab, with plants poking out the windows.
Chris Clyde said Jim helped her and her husband move from a house on Chestnut Street into a temporary rental apartment by choosing the furniture they had that would fit into the apartment and by supervising other matters that enabled them to move with ease. He took care of their dog, Polly, when the Clydes were away. “I was really spoiled by Jim,” said Clyde.
He was particularly devoted, said Clyde, to the late Sudie Schenck, helping her move from a house on Louisburg Square to an apartment on the other side of the square. When she became ill, he became her care-giver, not just a gardener and handyman, Clyde said. When Sudie died in April, 2020, Jim took it hard and Clyde suspects that was one reason for his subsequent decline.
As he was helping residents, he was also becoming more deeply involved in community activities. He was instrumental in helping the Beacon Hill Garden Club every year at its annual Tour of the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill on the third Thursday in May. In fact, the garden club gave Jim and his friend, Phil Short, awards featuring engraved glass bowls at the club’s annual meeting in June, 2015, for their devoted work hauling, lifting, carrying and planting for the club and club members, especially on tour day.
He helped the garden club maintain the Peter Faneuil House gardens and also heled the Nichols House staff in that museum’s front garden.
In the early ’90s, he helped the Beacon Hill Business Association decorate Charles Street with garlands and bows, remembers Charles Street real estate broker Ivy A.Turner, who was also instrumental in getting the neighborhood going on its holiday decorations. Jim procured rolls of cedar or laurel, as well as rolls of ribbon and taught Turner how to fashion beautiful bows for the lampposts on Charles Street. At the same time he was helping shop owners decorate for the holidays, creating different looks for every business. After the year 2000, he was still involved in procuring and instructing volunteers to always wind the length of holiday greenery in a counter-clockwise direction, as neighbors participated in decorating every lamppost on Beacon Hill with the garlands and ribbons.
One year, when the city produced a tree for the corner of Charles and Mount Vernon Street, Jim was appalled at the condition of the concrete base, said Turner. So he provided greenery and covered up the base so it wasn’t noticeable.
Everyone who knew him reported that even though he knew Beacon Hill residents and their habits well, he was always discreet and never gossiped. Everyone also reported that he was modest, never wanting to take credit for any of his good and helpful works. They describe him as selfless, kind, generous and pleasant to be with.
So pleasant in fact, that he had friends, including Phil Short, who would sit for hours on the steps at 60 Pinckney Street for the last 25 or 30 years, passing time, greeting passers-by, talking about all kinds of things and watching the street, keeping the neighborhood safe. Everyone called them the Stoop Group. In fact, if you google Apple maps, you’ll see three of them sitting on the steps where Apple’s map photographer caught them.
Jim, a son of Phyllis Kennedy Borden and the late Robert Borden, leaves all his friends on Beacon Hill as well as a brother, Bruce Borden, his niece, Kristen Bobb (husband Alex) of Chambersburg, PA, a nephew, Ryan Borden (wife Natasha) of Johnstown, OH, and great-nieces, Kenzie Borden and Delia Bobb and great-nephew, Ezra Bobb. A funeral has been held in Chambersburg. Several business owners and residents, appreciating the contributions Jim has made to the neighborhood, have opened a Memorial Benefit Account to fund a possible permanent memorial and to pay for a service held on Beacon Hill in the new year. If you wish to donate to honor Jim’s memory, please send checks to Lynne Wolverton FBO Jim Borden Memorial Fund, c/o Linens on the Hill, 52 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114