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Shea leaves legacy: human rights, schools, wit

William E. Shea

Described "a force for good in the world," William E. Shea was honored at a funeral Mass Friday, July 27, in St. Camillus Church following his July 24 death at home.

The good that force directed included his early role in the town's Human Rights Commission and the rebuilding of many of the town's schools.

"Bill Shea was a special man, and will be sorely missed by his friends and colleagues on the Arlington Human Rights Commission," wrote Sheri Baron, who with She was among the original members, having served for 19 years.

"During the first few years, Bill had a little trouble accepting that there were very many hate incidents in our community. I know that was because he loved Arlington, and could not fathom that all people did not treat others as he did -- with respect, grace and kindness.'

"Gradual 180-degree turn"

"As the years went by and 'victims' came before us for help, and we began our Dialogue Series on subjects that addressed all sorts of human rights issues, Bill started to 'see the light.' Even though we had a small number of complaints brought to us, between those and our dialogues addressing bigotry and prejudice, Bill had made a gradual 180-degree turn."

Baron wrote that "he was always the first to volunteer to go and make a difficult phone call and talk with 'victims.' Whenever asked (and often initiated on his own), Bill took on tasks, working on our Dialogue series and investigating complaints by calling or meeting with complainants. Bill stepped up to the plate so many times - he truly wanted to make Arlington a warm and welcoming community for all who live or work here."

As to his work on rebuilding Arlington's school, Shea was instrumental. John Cole of Arlington attested to that in an interview. Asked about the part Shea played, Cole answered in a more expansive way:

"To Bill, life was one big adventure, and he enjoyed the ride. He was a force for good in the world."

Cole, an architect, who has been chairman of the Permanent Town Building Committee for about 10 years, said he had known Shea since 1997.

Oversaw rebuilding of schools

When Cole joined the building committee, he did not know it would also mean volunteering in other areas where Shea was a force -- the Boys & Girls Club-Middlesex, in Somerville as well as the Chamber of Commerce in that city, where Shea had been president of Ames Envelope.

During Shea's tenure, the building committee oversaw the rebuilding of the Ottoson Middle School as well as six of seven elementary schools -- the Brackett, Bishop, Hardy, Peirce, Dallin and Thompson, which is under construction now. Only the Stratton remains to be rebuilt.

Cole, a principal with Arrowstreet in Davis Square and his own firm, at johncolearchitect.com, noted Shea's persistence leavened with diplomacy: "He got his nose in everyone's business .... He had the most amazing ability to disagree with people but never alienate them."

He summed up Shea: "Do it right ... that was his modus operandi."

Shea, a longtime Town Meeting member, was active in Arlington town government for 50 years.

He served on the Board of Directors at the Salvation Army in Cambridge for 30 years. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to The Salvation Army, 402 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139.

In June, the School Committee voted to name the library at the new Thompson School after him.

Missing from King celebration

The first sign of the cancer that eventually took Shea cropped up last January before the celebration of Martin Luther King's life.

Shea was long a fixture at the event since it began, but he had to bow out. It meant that he missed the honor bestowed on his wife, Elaine. With Mary Deyst and Claudette "Sue" Lehaie, she led the First Step Group of Arlington, a group that supports women who have experienced domestic violence.

Born in 1935, he was a lifelong Arlington resident. He is survived by Elaine M. (Fitzgerald) Shea; his sons, William J., and wife Meg of Belmont; Michael and wife Jane of Reading; as well as daughters, Taryn LaRaja, and husband Ray of Amherst; Katlyn Schultz and husband Kip of Lincoln, Meghan Shea Phillips of Arlington and Kristen Donahue and husband Micah of Newburyport.

He was the grandfather of Brigette, Elizabeth, Paul, Conor, Erin, Alex, Kathryn, Luca, Cameron, Phineas, Tea, Emma, Max and Lucy. He is the brother of Jane Sullivan. He is also survived by his nieces and nephews.

"World a bit askew now"

In her statement, Baron wrote: "Bill Shea was one of the kindest, good-hearted men I have ever known. He hated injustice in any form. He personified the Golden Rule.

"He had a dry, witty sense of humor, although as a fellow commissioner pointed out to me this morning, Bill often said very funny things, but did not realize they were funny until we all were laughing.

"He was a man of integrity, a mover and shaker -- a doer. He hated intolerance and bigotry in any form. This man really 'walked the walk.'

She concluded: "I loved Bill. I loved having discussions (sometimes in a slightly difficult tone, since we disagreed at many times in our first few years. I admired Bill, because, gradually, he not only heard what I said, but he listened and had an open mind, a  mind capable of understanding and changing if he was convinced that change was needed. And he helped me learn that skill as well.

"The world is just a bit askew now that Bill Shea will no longer be a part of it. We will hold him close in our hearts and memories. Rest in peace, dear Bill. We will never forget you."


DO YOU have remembrances of Bill Shea that you would like to share? You may do so at the comment link below this story. To be published, your words must include your full name.

 

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