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Paul Samuel James, 87, founder, president of Solar Electrical Construction

1/29/2014, 11:18 a.m.
Paul Samuel James

Paul Samuel James, 87, was founder and president of Solar Electrical Construction Corp., and its sister company, Eastern Seaboard Engineering. Solar was a prime electrical contracting firm established in 1964 that did business for over 30 years. The largest African-American owned electrical construction firm in New England at its peak, Solar employed over 100 union employees. James held many leadership positions in the industry, many a first for an African American, including as president of the National Electrical Contractors Association and director level positions at IBEW. He also served on the Boston Chamber of Commerce executive committee and was appointed to the board of trustees of Bridgewater State College.

James took a stand for women and minorities at Bridgewater when he resigned from the board citing unfair hiring practices during their search for several executive level vacancies. At that time, over 70 percent of the students at the college were women. After gaining the support of then Gov. Michael S. Dukakis to monitor the selection of the new administrators and assurances that the college would follow affirmative action guidelines he withdrew his resignation.

James served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1947, during which he learned the electrical craft. Because of his fair complexion and sparkling blue eyes James’ race was not apparent, which allowed him to pursue an electrical apprenticeship while in the Navy, otherwise not open to blacks at that time. He left the Navy with the rank of Electrician’s Mate 2nd class and went on to found Solar.

During its lifetime, Solar completed notable projects that include JFK Library, Prudential Center, Neiman Marcus, Marriott at Copley Place, Harvard University dorms, several Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority stations and Roxbury Community College.

James was a pioneer not only in his field, but he also broke many color lines — he was one of the first black men to move his family to the all-white community of Braintree, Mass.

In addition to his business involvements, James was a generous supporter of Sportsman’s Tennis Center, Lena Park Community Development Center and Dimock Community Health Center to name a few.

The very proud father to five children, and one of 12 siblings, James’ family was most important to him. He treasured summer family time on Martha’s Vineyard, court time at Sportsmen’s Tennis Center and family trips near and far. His competitive spirit was manifest in his love of tennis, pinochle, photography and being the best-dressed man in town.

He leaves a host of nieces, nephews, grandchildren and his long-time companion who will all miss him dearly.

Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center, 950 Blue Hill Ave., Dorchester, MA.