We are proud to announce that St. Mark's & First Parish Church United are honoring longtime Westford resident Bob Shaw at the Merrimack Valley Project's annual MICAH dinner on Nov. 7. We are deeply grateful for Bob's many years of service to St. Mark's Episcopal Church, First Parish Church United, and St. Paul's Soup Kitchen in Lowell.
St. Mark’s 2020 Micah Award recipient has left an indelible mark on the church – literally! From overseeing St. Mark’s major building expansion in 2000 to tenderly trimming the flowering trees in front of the building and maintaining the church’s Memorial Garden, Robert Shaw’s efforts are visible everywhere at St. Mark’s.
Bob and his wife of 54 years, Beth, have lived in Westford for many years. Bob grew up in Philadelphia and attended Cornell University, graduating with a degree in engineering, and then received a graduate degree from MIT. Before retiring, he was employed by CR Bard, working in manufacturing and product development for the company’s medical devices. The couple has three daughters, two of whom live with their spouses in New York and one with her husband in Northboro, and four grandchildren.
One of the biggest projects Bob tackled was chairing the committee that doubled the size of St. Mark’s in the early 2000s. The massive project required both major fundraising and endless hours working with contractors and parishioners as the project took shape, and Bob was a faithful presence alongside fellow church member Dick Emmett to bring it to fruition, despite the inevitable snags.
Bob also single-handedly tends St. Mark’s Memorial Garden, where ashes of the faithful are interred. In addition to tending the azaleas, rhododendrons, and annual flowers that make the garden a place of beauty and peace, Bob has for decades prepared the ground to receive the ashes of the deceased and arranged for the memorial stone that marks each resting place. The work is spiritual, he says. “When you look at a blooming azalea, or a rose, we just can’t make things like that. … We can cut grass and build buildings, but it’s hard to make something as gorgeous as a rose or an orchid.”
Bob is also a familiar face at St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen. It started out as a “fifth Wednesday” commitment, with the church serving four times a year: When St. Mark’s decided to take on a monthly slot, Bob jumped in, becoming the courier who delivered the donated food to the soup kitchen for serving – and supplying the salad ingredients himself. When the church that hosted the soup kitchen became unable to maintain the building, Bob helped the soup kitchen find a new home.
About 15 years ago, conflict with the rector at St. Mark’s over LGBT issues caused Bob and his wife Beth to seek a new church home, and they found a warm welcome at First Parish Church United in Westford. Bob soon began putting his many gifts to work there, serving on the Property Committee, Social Action Committee, Finance Committee, and the Outreach Committee. During his time on the Finance Committee, including a three-year term as treasurer, he pushed the parish to make budget commitments to care for the building’s future needs, an effort that bore fruit years later when the building needed painting and new chairs were needed for Fellowship Hall. Through Outreach & Social Action, he continued his work of encouraging others to join him in his commitment to care for those in need. At both First Parish and St. Mark’s, he could often be found at the top of a ladder, pruning trees or fixing lights, even as he passed his 80thbirthday.
While buildings and gardens are the visible fruits of his labor, the inspiration for the work has always been people, Bob says. “When I’m in the garden, I think of the people interred there,” he says. At the soup kitchen, it’s both the people who come to eat and the people who work to provide food. “[Soup kitchen founder] Rose Bronk is just a saint,” he says in admiration.
More than anything else, what stands out about Bob’s service is its steadfastness. Even though he was soon deeply engaged in the life of First Parish, Bob continued to care for St. Mark’s Memorial Garden and trim the trees planted as part of the building expansion. Once he takes on a task, it’s his, and it gets done year after year after year, without fanfare and without fail. “Once I get involved with something, it’s hard to let go of it,” he says. In recognition of Bob’s faithful and steadfast service to people throughout Westford and Lowell, we are proud to recognize him as this year’s Micah Award recipient.