Mr. Uphams Corner stepping aside after 42 years on the scene

Ed Grimes: Four decades as director of health centerEd Grimes: Four decades as director of health centerEdward Grimes, the man who has led the Uphams Corner Health Center from its earliest moments in a city municipal building in the early 1970s, will retire from his post as president and CEO at the end of this month. Grimes, 74, will be succeeded in the role by 42-year-old Jagdeep Trivedi, an 11-year veteran of the health center’s PACE program.

Grimes, who has slowly been turning over control to Trivedi during a planned six-month transition period, will serve his last day at his desk on Dec. 31, a bittersweet conclusion to a stellar, career that has been marked by steadiness and responsibility.

“I wish I could say I’m going into the unknown, but this has been my life’s work, professionally. I’m not sure exactly what I will be doing upon my departure,” said Grimes in an interview with the Reporter.

A lifelong Dorchester resident, Grimes is a graduate of St. Kevin School, formerly situated on Columbia Road in Uphams Corner. He and his wife raised their own family in the large house that he grew up in on Jones Hill. His father passed away when he was 11 and Grimes and his brother were raised from that point by his mother, who turned the home into a rooming house – renting out individual rooms – to make ends meet.

Grimes rarely missed a day at his health center office in 42 years and only reluctantly does he venture beyond Uphams Corner, which gives a sense of the level of his devotion to the facilities and people whom he has served relentlessly.

Grimes was an unlikely choice to manage a health center, but then – in the embryonic days of the health center movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s – there really wasn’t a prototypical health center executive. Grimes was plucked from relative obscurity by his neighbors in the Jones Hill Association, the civic group that, like others in the Dorchester community, birthed a health center out of pure desperation.

As traditional private family doctors moved out of the city in the bleakest days of urban blight, activists sought to staunch the literal and figurative bleeding of needy neighbors by forming health committees.
Grimes, who was working for a pharmaceutical company at the time and preparing to get married, was inspired by the organizing work of his Jones Hill neighbor, Mrs. Ethel Lennox, who impressed upon him the urgency of the task.

“Mrs. Lennox really enlightened the community to the need and she had a unique way of trying to get people involved. She was great at buttonholing people. She’s the person who told me, ‘We have a real problem in health care and we need to do this here.’”

At the time of the health committee’s formation in 1971, Uphams Corner was in a period of chaotic transition. Arsons were a regular occurrence as property owners tried to salvage any value they could. It was at once a tragedy and an opportunity, one that Grimes, once he assumed the leadership post at the newly opened health center in 1973, proved adept at seizing for the good of the community. He led an effort to persuade city leaders to let the health committee open its first clinic space in the old municipal building at the corner of Bird Street, which was renovated and opened in 1973. The space happened to be one floor below a basketball court and weight-lifting room.

“Those of us who lived under the noise still remember it,” recalls Grimes, who agreed from the outset to a one-year term as director, but nonetheless found himself drawn to the methodical, but rewarding work of building the health center from the ground-up.

“I found that it had all the challenges of a business career but with the focus of human services and I thought that was terrific,” he said. “And my true love, my wife, was so supportive. I had the realization when I first got involved with Mrs. Lennox’s request that I become a member of the health committee, that the whole idea of community work grew out of my own religious education and was a way of putting a philosophy into action. To be able to raise a family and be part, in a meaningful way, to contribute to community work. I looked as myself as the stage manager to really get the systems and facilities in place so highly skilled and committed physicians and social workers and other professions could have a solid and financially secure place to provide the services that the community needed. Idealistically, that was the approach and it just settled in.”

Those who have watched Grimes in action for these four decades now marvel at how he has grown the agency from a five-person operation toiling amid the din of dead-weights falling heavily a floor above to a 525-employee operation with seven locations mainly clustered along Columbia Road, but including satellites from Dudley Square to Dorchester Avenue.

“He’s the conscience of the community,” said Jay Travedi, his successor. “He puts the community first and he was at the health center six days a week for the past 42 years. And even when on vacation he was reachable. He’s a very humble and quiet person, yet he has his finger on the pulse of every part of life here.”

James Hunt II, Jr. the CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, called Grimes “one of the steadiest professionals” he has ever encountered.

“Ed is always at his desk and never afraid to praise and give constructive criticism,” said Hunt, who noted that Grimes has always been respectful ‘— if sometimes serious— in his tone.

“He created an air of respect in the Uphams Corner Health Center and the community. He was never shy but he never bullied his way into anything. He was always respectful. But you knew if you were about to get blasted, because he’d start by saying, ‘With all due respect…’”laughed Hunt.

Grimes’s leadership in Uphams Corner has extended well beyond the health center and its various offices. He served as the first president of the M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts, a non-profit that formed to reopen and revitalize the once-shuttered Strand Theatre; he helped to launch the city-sponsored Main Streets district; oversaw the creation of what is now the Bird Street Community Center; and served as a longtime member of Jones Hill Association.

But Grimes’s steady hand as the leader of the Uphams Corner Health Committee is what he will long be remembered and admired for. To this day, he still refers to his employers as the health committee, a reference to the board of volunteer residents that continues to give oversight and governance to all facets of the health center’s programming.

“It was really a community effort from the start,” he said.