James Maroney: Finding Light in the Darkness
No one could ever accuse James Maroney of failing to seize the day. His “carpe diem’ing” comes in many forms – often in capturing images of the sun rising. “In my darkest days, I look for the light,” he says, noting that a sunrise can shift his entire perspective, particularly when he faces a day of uncertainty or difficulty. The photos and videos Maroney captures are often shared on his social media pages, where he has a devoted following.
It might be tempting to assume that Maroney is a hippie who eschews many societal norms as he routinely takes a singing bowl and buffalo drum with him to play at random destinations, hands out crystals to perfect strangers, and journals most days. But nothing about Maroney is one-dimensional; he straddles many different worlds, schools of thoughts, and friend groups.
A decorated documentarian, Maroney spends his days working at MHTV – also known as Marblehead Television – where he tells stories through his photography and videography work and serves as the Production Manager. But before that chapter of his life began, he proudly served in the United States Army, describing his time as “truly something that has carried me to this day, from my first walk onto that base at 18. As soon as I put on that uniform, I grew up. I learned what it meant to be a man, what it is to represent my country, what it is to be disciplined and respectful.”
Maroney spent his childhood surrounded by instability, alcoholism, and mental illness – much of it behind closed doors. He and his twin sister were adopted before the age of one, and to this day information about their whereabouts before the adoption remains hazy. His adoptive mother was a loving woman with demons of her own, and his adoptive father left the family when the twins were only eight years old. He died two years after walking out, leaving them as well as another sister and a younger brother fatherless. “She did the best she could,” Maroney says of his mother, who has since died and whom he says he “loved deeply.”
Formative years in which Maroney was told by his father that he would amount to nothing clearly left a mark, but he forged a path of success in spite of those early messages.
For decades after his time in the United States Army, he worked both on air in radio and television and behind the lens. His work has won him many awards, including an Emmy. His talents have taken him outside Massachusetts too; he spent time working in Dayton, Ohio, where he was a radio announcer.
The years working on all aspects of creating photographs and video content made him a natural for his moonlighting efforts: creating documentaries for his independent production company, James Maroney Productions. Since the 1980s, Maroney has met and interviewed politicians and celebrities, winning multiple awards for his coverage along the way. But the project he considers one of his biggest sources of pride and meaning involved helping memorialize the victims of an arson that took the lives of 15 people in Beverly, Massachusetts in the 1980s. He documented the devastation of the rooming house fire back in 1984, when he was fairly new to his job at Beverly Television. The tragedy made such an impression on him that he decided to partner with others to create the Chambers House Memorial – two benches and a plaque that today stand where the rooming house once was.
A related passion project of Maroney’s is the development of “Remembering The Elliott Chambers Fire, July 4, 1984,” a documentary that has been in the works for many years. “It will most likely be released in 2024, on the 40th anniversary,” he says.
Between his day job at MHTV and his consulting work creating documentaries, Maroney leads a busy life. But of the utmost importance to him are his friends and family – which include his siblings and the nieces and nephews he “adores.” Throughout our conversation he notes several times just how lucky he feels to have struck gold with his diverse friend groups. From local artists like Susan Schrader – whose works he shows off to me at his home – to town historian Dan Dixie, to Marblehead Veterans Agent Dave Rodgers, his friends come from myriad walks of life. “When I had been in Marblehead less than a year, Dave Rodgers presented me with this,” he says, pulling out a coin with the Town seal on one side and the military branches on the other.
Intensely grateful for the friendship of people from his childhood and those newer to his life, he stops to marvel. “I’m blown away by how much people love me,” he says. “Because I didn’t start off with people loving me.”
Before his time in Marblehead, Maroney worked for the Comcast Network for 23 years in video production. A mass layoff in 2009 left him feeling crushed and “without an identity.” As he licked his wounds, Maroney began delivering flowers in Beverly for $10.00 an hour, which was a blow to his ego, having enjoyed a double-decade career in video production. “Then one day a friend said to me, ‘that’s a pretty cool job; you’re bringing joy to people’s lives.’” That one interaction changed Maroney’s outlook, and with that he worked through the lean times and ultimately landed at MHTV as a videographer, where he remains to this day.
Maroney’s natural inclination toward storytelling is evident as we sit in a coffee shop chatting. He misses no detail – either inside or outside the cafe. “Look at that sweet family,” he says, pointing out young parents sitting with their toddler.
Of his positivity, Maroney notes that while he’s “no Pollyanna,” he makes it a point to find at least five things for which to be grateful at the end of each day. “It took time to grow into that, though,” he says, acknowledging that his life has had many a dark moment. In one corner of his tidy living room sits a small shrine to Katie, his twin sister who died in 2019, and whom he refers to as “the love of my life.” She had been diagnosed a year earlier with ovarian cancer, which was crushing, particularly because Katie had struggled with schizophrenia for much of her life.
During Katie’s cancer treatment, hospice care, and eventual passing, Maroney found solace with friends who reached out to him on social media – some whom he had not heard from since his and Katie’s childhood. “It was truly heartwarming,” he says.
There is little doubt Maroney is a people person. In handing out those crystals he carries around with him in order to “pass along positive energy,” in marrying three times, and in making new friends wherever he goes, Maroney's eternal optimism is always evident. “I still speak with all three exes,” he notes. But his extroverted personality sometimes takes a back seat to his desire for alone time. “I’ve taken cruises by myself, gone to Florida, and sometimes I just get in the car and drive to Rockport or to Singing Beach” in Manchester – where he grew up. And he is excited at the prospect of one day experiencing a silent retreat in the Green Mountains.
In his solitude, Maroney thinks about the big questions in life, but tries not to dwell on the past or wrestle too much with worries about the future. Nevertheless, he does live with the reality of a chronic condition – hemochromatosis – an iron-related disorder that requires the removal of blood from his body from time to time.
At 64 and busier than ever, Maroney says he “knows I have to slow down.” But because he loves his work so much, the line between standing behind the camera for work versus recreation is sometimes blurred. And it is evident he does not want to miss a thing socially either. Whether it’s Fleetwood Mac, Sting, Blues shows in Cambridge, or local performances at Marblehead’s Me and Thee Coffee House, live music is hard for Maroney to pass up. “I just have an appreciation for entertainment.”
As we wrap up the interview, Maroney receives a text. “It’s my second wife checking in on me,” he says. “What does the text say?” I ask. “It says, ‘Good morning, Jim. Have a wonderful day.’”
Editor’s Note: From time to time, Marblehead Beacon will profile interesting people who live or work in town – individuals whose insights, wisdom, or experiences might otherwise not be chronicled. Ideas for future profiles may be sent to email@example.com.