By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Albert H. Shaw, 1913-2010

Al Shaw in 1977

My uncle Albert Shaw lived long enough to be able to look me in the eye and tell me in all seriousness, “I wish I was 92 again.” He was 96 when he said that. He died on Dec. 23, just a few weeks after his 97th birthday, and a small group of family members and friends said goodbye at the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Buzzards Bay last Thursday.

I had several uncles, but Al — one of five siblings on my mother’s side — was the only one who lived nearby when I was growing up. He was someone I saw a lot of when I was a kid. He took me golfing. He also was a frequent presence at the family cottage in Onset, where, in 1977, I took the picture of him that you see here. Along with my grandmothers, he was the one member of my extended family who was actually a part of my life.

Al grew up in Middleborough, in the same house in which I was raised two generations later. He was born on Dec. 7, 1913, and was in the Army when, on his 28th birthday, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He served as a communications officer in Burma, walking miles down the road to the hospital after he contracted malaria. Following treatment, he returned to his post.

Like many people from his generation, intelligence and ability did not necessarily lead to a good job. In mid-life he trained as a draftsman, and worked for a while at a high-tech company in the Merrimack Valley. But one of the periodic tech washouts claimed his job, and he ended up spending the latter part of his working life as a custodian at the Brockton VA Hospital. Yet he was smart enough to have done just about anything he put his mind to, and his reading was deep and eclectic. As recently as this fall, he was telling me in great detail about an article he’d read in the Wilson Quarterly about the Chinese economy.

Following a divorce, Al spent many years living with a couple with whom he was friendly — a friendship that was tested after the husband became totally disabled in a workplace accident. Al stayed on for many years, providing them with invaluable assistance.

In recent years, Al lived on his own in an apartment in Lakeville. He was in remarkably good health until very late in his life, golfing well into his 80s and taking part in a bowling league as recently as this past spring. (And kicking butt.) He only gave up driving around Labor Day. My wife, kids and I spent Thanksgiving with him at his home. He was feeling well and was in good spirits that day.

Yet his congestive heart failure was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. When he landed in the hospital in early December, he decided it was finally time to move to a nursing home. Unfortunately, he had barely begun to settle in when he fell and broke his hip. He died in surgery, his heart unable to withstand the effects of anesthesia.

Al lived a long, healthy life, and he had been making it clear for some time that he was ready to go. He wasn’t a Woody Allen fan (nor am I), but to paraphrase Allen, Al wasn’t afraid of dying; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. He got his wish. I will miss him, but I’m glad my kids got to know him.

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  1. John Doherty

    What a great, full life, and a lovely tribute.

    Sorry for your loss.

  2. B.A. DuBois

    Sorry for your loss, Dan… and to repeat a cliche, that generation — including my parents, both of whom are still alive, lucky me — grew up during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and the tumult of the Sixties. They weren’t perfect, but man, we still can learn so much from them..

  3. Jerry Ackerman

    Beautifully said, Dan.

  4. John F.J. Sullivan

    He is still vital and remarkable in your memories, as evidenced by this excellent recollection. I’ll raise a glass to him tonight.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Speaking of raising a glass, I should mention that we would often go out for pizza and beer when I’d visit — and had it at his apartment as recently as the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

  5. Stephen Stein

    The traditional Jewish consolation is “may his memory be a blessing”, and it’s clear here that it already is. A great piece about a great life, Dan.

  6. Very touching. The nicest obit I’ve read in a long time. It’s interesting to think how the people whom we walk past doing what most would consider menial labor might have interesting life stories and intellects far more capable and agile than what we might expect. There will be a great deal more of this as the baby boomers age out beyond what society sees as their useful career life spans and many end up working as greeters at Walmart.

  7. Mary DeChillo

    your tribute to your uncle got me thinking about how easily we often discount relationships with extended family in our culture. Aunts and uncles–then and now–are often relationships we have through our parents and grandparents. Aunts and uncles are often on the second-tier of family relatioships. It’s great that you continued the relationship through adulthood and that your children had the benefit of knowing an older person of great character. What great memories for you all to share.

  8. Rick Peterson

    Nicely done, DK. I too had a relative working at the VA Hospital in Brockton, in his case as a long-term volunteer. He probably was friendly with your Uncle Al, sounds like they were two of a kind. When he died a few years ago, the level of respect shown by the honor guard and the VA at his Bourne National Cemetery burial was amazing and a real comfort to the family. For those looking for an opportunity to say “thanks” to the rapidly-disappearing “Greatest Generation”, the VA Hospitals have a great program for volunteers. My condolences to you and your family.

  9. Damn nice piece. My condolences on the loss, and my congratulations on having had him in your life.

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