The man behind Embree Elevator: James Comley

Born and raised in Bedford, Massachusetts, James (Jim) Comley, a 91-year-old Navy veteran, is no stranger to hard work and dedicated service – having worked in the elevator industry for more than 70 years. The youngest of three children, Jim lights up when speaking about his family – from his 93-year-old brother in Cape Cod to his four children and eight grandchildren.

Having lost his wife of 66 years just two short years ago, Jim dotingly remembers the day they met. “Her brother had a garage. I pumped gas there,” said Jim. “She was a beautiful woman. I fell in love while she was there washing her car – she had a brand new 1950 Pontiac.”

Along with being a devout family man, Jim is an elevator man through and through. In fact, he started in the business at F.S. Payne Company when he was 19 years old. Then, just one year into his career, Jim was drafted into the U.S. Navy where he followed in his father’s footsteps working as an electrician.

“I enjoyed myself in the Navy. I saw a lot of Italy, Greece, France, Portugal, and even North Africa,” said Mr. Comley.

After serving his country for four years, Jim returned to Massachusetts and reentered the elevator trade. He went to night school – attending Franklin Tech to learn more about elevators – while continuing to work for F.S. Payne. In his late-30s, Jim left F.S. Payne for City Elevator.

“I stayed at City until about 1973 – then, I decided to buy Embree and White Corporation, which, at the time, was a non-signatory elevator company,” said Jim. “It cost me about $120,000 to buy Embree – I got a loan from the bank. When I first bought Embree, the company had only six employees, but with the support of the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) and the talented workforce coming out of Local 4, the shop grew and is now at about 35 employees.”

Today, Jim’s daughter and her husband run Embree Elevator, while one of Jim’s sons, Steve – a proud member of IUEC Local 4 – started the Elevator Museum, one of the only brick and mortar museums of its kind.

While Jim is technically retired, he volunteers his time giving tours at the Haverhill, Massachusetts-based Elevator Museum – explaining to curious visitors the many ways the industry has changed over the last seven decades.

Interested in learning more about the Elevator Museum? Be sure to check out Elevator Info next week for videos featuring the Elevator Museum, as well as exclusive interviews with both Steve and Jim Comley.