Theodoric C. James Jr. was clearly in trouble. He wasn’t showering anymore. He wore the same ragged clothing day after day. Rats rummaged through the weeds and mounds of trash in his yard. He started going to the bathroom in buckets on his front porch.
His neighbor Alex Dobbins was afraid that something terrible was going to happen. They had been friends since their days at Howard University and had lived in adjoining rowhouses in the 16th Street Heights section of Northwest Washington for 37 years.
But this was not the man he had known. The man who had served in the White House for almost 50 years, under every president from Kennedy to Obama. The man who read and catalogued many of the documents that flow through the Oval Office: memos to the president, letters, pieces of legislation, nomination packets, even classified material that required him to have a security clearance.
This man was inexplicably living in squalor, seemingly without electricity or running water, and hiding under a hooded overcoat and multiple layers of clothing no matter how hot it got. He wasn’t just a public nuisance but, Dobbins feared, a danger to himself.
For more than two years, Dobbins and James’s family members in Mississippi repeatedly called every city office they could think of — the Department of Mental Health, Adult Protective Services, his council member, the mayor — hoping to get James help and prevent the worst.
Then, on Aug. 1, after the punishing heat wave that pushed the heat index to 112, Dobbins woke up worried because he hadn’t seen his friend in two days. He knocked on the door loudly with a baseball bat. There was no answer.
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He Served 10 Presidents, But Died Alone in Squalor: What Happened to Theodoric C. James?