How do you summarize and eulogize such a magnificent human being and a life so very, very well lived? How do you properly celebrate someone so extraordinary who not only gave, and gave, and gave, but more importantly — inspired others to do the same, all the while supporting a family and holding down numerous jobs?
No matter what gets written, and what gets spoken, it can’t measure up, or do justice to, the legacy of Bob “Papa” Shea.
That legacy is so rich — five children, nine grand children, seven great grand children, dozens of honorary members of the Bob Shea family, and more friends — real friends — than anyone.
Bob Shea was no-nonsense but loving, generous in the extreme, and had a wonderful sense of humor. And he was also a guy who spoke his mind. Oh, boy, he spoke his mind. You knew where you stood with Papa Shea.
A few weeks back, my wife Susan asked Bob to come with her to La Salette Shrine to see the Christmas lights.
Bob asked, “Is the heathen coming?”
He meant me. Papa Shea’s not-so-subtle way of telling me I need to start going to church again. And he would say it with a smile. I can’t count the number of times he would make me laugh; or tell me an amazing story about his life, or something he did to help people.
But more often than not, when you were with Bob, he talked about his family. And judging by the amount of time he spoke of them, his family was the greatest love of his life. There were the pictures, and the pictures, and the pictures! And the stories, and the light in his eyes, as he told you of the adventures of his grand children and great-grand children. He loved them all so much and would regale you with their stories of winning a game, an achievement in school, a birthday party, or a trip to the beach or family gathering.
He LOVED the kids so much.
And he had equal pride in the accomplishments of his adult children and their spouses, and he spoke so proudly of what they have achieved in their careers and families.
Bob loved completely. He loved all of you with his entire heart and soul.
That love was nurtured in his hometown of Rosedale, New York — a multi-national, multi-generational neighborhood that set so many of his core values into his soul — Family. Community. Generosity. Friendship. The value — and joy — in productive work. Respect for others. And an insatiable desire to be involved, to help. To make things better for others. And to light the way for the next generation to follow.
Bob’s life was all about helping others. One of the groups in town Bob loved was the Jaycees, and he best exemplified that line from our creed that reads, “Service to humanity is the best work of life.”
When called, Bob served. And when he saw a need, Bob not only volunteered but rallied and led others to help the cause.
He served this Nation honorably during wartime. Afterward, to support his young family, he endured 22 months of exile as an electrician near the North Pole — working in frigid, hellish conditions to send money back home. He worked a variety of jobs, sometimes — often — two at a time. He ran many of his own businesses, including restaurants.
His life took him across the country and in 1972, to our great fortune, he arrived in Foxboro, where he worked as a judge at the Foxboro Raceway, where he also raised and raced his beloved horses.
He was an active member of the Foxboro community and exemplified volunteerism and community service at its very best.
His “resume” would fill volumes: Past master of the Grange, and twice president of the Elder Gram — the predecessor to COA. Bob was a member of the Knights of Columbus AND Saint Alban’s Masonic Lodge. He created a program that brought gladiolas to the elderly. He was a driving force in the “Save our Sports” program for the Ahern School. Each Christmas Eve, he and another friend would bring poinsettias to the widows in Foxboro. He used to grow flowers in his own garden and bring them to employees at local banks and restaurants. He often made someone “queen for a day” and brought them little presents and flowers. When we needed a food pantry box at Shaws; all it took was a call to the Knights and Bob Shea built it.
Perhaps most significantly, Bob was one of the originators of the Foxboro Farm Stand for the discretionary fund. In addition to the years of hard work making that dream a reality, he also tended his own garden and gave the bounty to the farm stand.
In 1991 he said, “This way I have the joy of growing the garden, and the kids have the joy of receiving toys at Christmas time.”
And during that time, as busy as he was, he single-handedly coordinated the first “Rosedale Roundup” of over 1200 past and present members of his hometown. That was Bob — reuniting and maintaining community. In a picture of the first round-up, there’s a young Bob Shea with an old-fashioned camera around his neck.
I’m sure that’s how many people in this church remember Bob — the cameraman. Bob was the official photographer for the family and his community and friends, and he loved capturing special moments as gifts. On Founder’s Day, at weddings, christenings and family events, he would take pictures and then race to the one-hour photo and back to the event to ensure the images were presented the same day.
And friends, the small list just read is only a fraction of the acts of kindness Bob Shea performed. Because so very many of Bob’s community efforts were “under the radar.” Over the years, how many children had toys on Christmas because of Bob’s help at the farm stand? How many acts of kindness did he perform that we will never know about? How many times did he say something kind or inspirational to a young person? How many people did he help just by being himself? How many lives did he make better?
The answer? Far more than we will ever know.
We all have our stories of Bob; this one’s a good example of how I remember his sense of humor and story telling. A few years back, Bob stopped by my house while my wife was getting an old car running. The car made so much smoke while starting that Bob took me by the arm and said, totally matter-of-factly, “Let’s sit over there so when it explodes we don’t get killed.” He then regaled me with a tale of meeting Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, and his adventures at the North Pole.
He took such interest in people. If we were at a restaurant, he would ask the waitress what she was studying in school, or ask to see pictures of her children. And you couldn’t go out with Bob without bumping into someone he knew. And everyone was always glad to see him. Their affection for him was obvious.
And I would love to just listen to him — like the time he spoke with pride at the pictures he got at the original Woodstock. Or how he flirted with the waitresses as all the restaurants in Florida. ALL the waitresses. At ALL the restaurants. More often then not, there was a picture of a young, beautiful waitress, or flight attendant, giving Bob a kiss on the cheek.
An outing with Bob was also a history lesson — he had an incredibly sharp mind and his attention to detail was meticulous. You’d drive with him and he’d point — “There used to be a great restaurant there,” “That’s where so-and-so worked as a mechanic,” “I remember when that house was owned by a friend of mine … ” “There used to be great fishing in that lake …
” and so on.
When Bob traveled — and he loved to do so, he always chose the road less taken, and he stopped to get to know people, seek out the local Grange or Knights, and make new friends.
Speaking of travel, Bob’s family took him to the Bahamas a few years ago. Before the trip, Bob went to Wal-Mart and bought bags of new clothes, not for himself, but for the needy in the Bahamas, which he donated to a local church as soon as got off the ship.
That’s Bob Shea. That’s what he did. That’s who he was.
I asked family and friends to help describe Bob Shea; They said: He loved people. Always loved horses. He loved to live. Always well dressed. Paid attention to detail. Listened to YOU when you talked. What a memory. Everywhere he goes, he touches people’s life for the better. He appreciated the small things in life like a good meal. If you did anything no matter how small for him, he was so appreciative. Story teller. Most giving man in the world. So generous. Always had the camera, always took the pictures. One of God’s angels. Everybody’s “Papa” Shea.
Last week, before Bob passed away, the town of Foxboro awarded Bob a certificate recognizing his years of service. In part, it said, “Bob Shea has nurtured the sense of community that has made Foxboro so unique since its founding, an example of how many people can be touched by the caring of a single person. We remain indebted to Bob for his sense of caring, his willingness to work tirelessly to help others, and for the inspiration he provides our future generations.”
There was such a light around Bob Shea. And while the world is a little darker place without him here, I believe that we all have a new guardian angel, who is doubtless already volunteering to help us.
We pray to the good Lord that Bob is at Peace, in Heaven, and we thank God for the beautiful gift — that was the life of Bob “Papa” Shea.
You can read the profile I wrote of Bob in March 2009, which he loved, HERE
My wife Susan wrote this about Bob Shea:
I am convinced that Bob was one of God’s angels that walked among us. There are no words I can use to describe how blessed I feel to have had him in my life and to have experienced his unconditional love.
Bob told me that he considered me like a daughter to him and I was so proud to consider him like a father. Bob was the gentlest, kind, selfless, giving, loving person I know. He was and will always continue to be the best person I have ever known.
Bob made my life and the lives of so many so much better. He lifted me up every day when we spoke regardless of how he was feeling.
Bob was so funny and took great pride in making people smile and feel good. He taught me so much about so much. There was no subject that he was not familiar with and was able to share his wisdom about. Including telling it like it is.
He was not very rich in money … but he was the wealthiest man I have ever known.
Bob was also one of the strongest men and the most interesting person. There are just not adequate words to describe him or enough time to tell about him or share the amazing stories.
Despite my knowledge that his spirit will always remain with us and that I am grateful that he is free from pain, I find myself unable to imagine my life or this world without him. I pray that his beautiful spirit may rest … but knowing him … he is probably already telling everyone how to make things better and what to do … . and how to improve heaven. Bob, you were my angel here on earth and now, I know that you will be my angel in heaven.