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When I'm 64: Sly James

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Sly James says he expects to spend the rest of his life here.

This profile is part of KCUR’s occasional series, Aging in Place. We’re showcasing the many different faces of 64 in metro Kansas City. 

Name: Sly James

Residence: Kansas City, Missouri

Occupation: Mayor

What does 64 feel like? “In my head it feels 54. In my body, it feels like 70 sometimes. Sometimes when you move in the mornings you find a muscle you didn’t know you had. But really, 64 to me is just a number. I don’t have any particular feelings about it one way or another. I’m just happy to have another birthday.”

What’s the biggest surprise or disappointment for you at this stage in your life? “Probably the biggest disappointment is I didn’t listen to older people when I had the chance to avoid some of the pitfalls I had along the way. Now that I have children, one of the surprises is how much I sound like my parents. When I grew up, I said I would never say some of those things or do some of those things, and now I find myself doing them.”

When do you think you’ll retire and what will that look like? “I don’t actually think I’m going to have a retirement. I really don’t. I happen to believe that when you stop moving and thinking and working, then you start dying. I plan to probably work as long as I possibly can as long as I’m doing something I really enjoy, something that I think adds value.”

Do you plan to spend the rest of your life in the KC area? “Yes. I can go to wherever I want to for a few days or a few weeks or a few months even. But Kansas City’s my home. I’ll spend the rest of my life here.”

What’s your biggest worry? “I guess if I was going to be worried about anything, it’d be physical and mental health, being able to make sure that I’m able to maintain those two things so that I don’t become a burden to somebody, so that I know and recognize what’s going on around me for as long as possible.”

Do you feel you get the support you need from your family, friends and community? “I certainly do from my friends and family. Community is a broad term, and I think everything that I need is here, and I think there are people here that go out of their way to help. My family is extremely supportive. My wife is eight years younger than me, so she’ll be around to help. I’m trying to make sure that my daughter doesn’t object to changing my adult diapers. She’s already told me she doesn’t like that idea, but we’re going to break her in.

What’s on your bucket list? “To go to wherever the Super Bowl is that the Chiefs are playing in. … In 1970, when they won it, I was just a year out of high school, couldn’t really do anything, and I thought, mistakenly, it’ll happen (again), and I’ll be able to go. Hasn’t happened. So I want to go to the Super Bowl in which the Chiefs are one of the teams.”

What do you think is the defining moment of your generation? “I happen to believe I grew up in one of the most interesting periods of time in American history, the ’60s. The music changed. The culture changed. Civil rights was raging. Vietnam War was raging. Voting rights - all sorts of things were being contested. It was a very loud, clash-y, vibrant time in which you were almost forced to pick sides as to which way you were going to go, how you were going to grow up.”

What’s your favorite song? “My favorite song might be ‘Little Wing’ by Jimi Hendrix.”

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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