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Remembering Elaine Shea …

Former Select Board member Joseph A. Curro Jr. remembers his friend Elaine Shea.

Elaine Shea supporting schoolsElaine Shea supporting schools. /                                  Lauren Ledger photo

Part of Arlington’s heart died last week when we lost Elaine Shea. I’m not one to cry easily, but I wept uncontrollably when I received the news.

I knew it was coming. I had received a call from Elaine in January, telling me of her diagnosis. In true fashion, instead of dwelling on her illness, she talked about how grateful she was for her family and friends and for the life she had lived.

We spoke once more in February. Once again, she gave a quick update on her health condition, but she mostly insisted on knowing how I and my wife and daughters were. She had read of my resignation from the Select Board and wanted to check in.

The first time I met Elaine was by way of a fleeting introduction when I stopped by the house to see her husband, the late, great Bill Shea, who had offered to brief me on his long campaign to rebuild the Thompson School.

The second time was also a brief encounter, when I congratulated Elaine and her fellow co-founders of Arlington First Step on the occasion of their recognition at the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance.

After Bill died less than a year later, it suddenly felt like Elaine was everywhere, and she quickly became a constant in my life.

Collaborations

We collaborated with one another and several other Arlington residents to organize a forum to raise awareness about men’s role in pushing back against the scourge of violence against women. Helping victims of domestic violence was Elaine’s passion; for several decades, she and her First Step colleagues had convened support groups and shared cups of tea with women in need.

Elaine served as the stage manager for the Selectones’ holiday singalong concerts, doing an admirable job of “herding cats,” making sure everyone had their lyric sheets and knew where to stand. She was a regular fixture at school concerts and just about any major event in town, especially if it was one that was supporting a good cause.

Following a speech of mine at the 2017 Veterans Day ceremony, Elaine implored me to run for a third term on the Select Board. I was tired and had my doubts, but I made a deal with her. I would do it if she would serve as my campaign chair. She agreed, but she had terms.

Committed to small kindnesses

Elaine refused to serve in a purely honorific role, insisting that she be put to work, and she was good to her word. I have met few people who were so committed to small kindnesses. More than once, Elaine dropped by my house to bring me a book she thought I might like. In once instance, it was the memoir she had written about her life with Bill. Another time, she dropped off a book called Zen on the Trail: Hiking as Pilgrimage by an area author, slipping a personal note and an announcement of an upcoming book talk into the front cover. My daughter and I had recently walked the Camino de Santiago, and Elaine immediately thought of us when she saw the announcement.

It was a common occurrence to find handwritten notes in the mail, sometimes including newspaper clippings or concert programs Elaine thought might be of interest to me or my family members. I have been told that she would sometimes make unannounced visits to members of our legislative delegation at the State House, bringing them home-baked goodies to thank them for their service.

One of Elaine’s long-standing passions was to encourage others to be “upstanders” and do something when they saw a wrong being committed. As a reminder, she liberally distributed rubber “Upstander” bracelets to anyone willing to join her in this crusade. After I misplaced the first two bracelets she gave me, I vowed not to lose the third.

Elaine loved it when I told her how I convinced a TSA agent in Chicago to crawl under the conveyor belt to retrieve my bracelet after it slipped through a crack. In fact, she loved the story so much that she barged into the Select Board’s chambers in the middle of a hearing to hand-deliver a poem she had written about the incident. This may well be the only time I ever saw our chair at the time, Kevin Greeley, at a complete and utter loss for words. Not long afterward, Elaine and I shared a table and drinks at the reception following Kevin’s funeral.

Family was all

Family was everything to Elaine. I was so honored to join her and her children when she was given an award by the Rotary Club in 2018. I was greatly moved by her dedication to keeping her husband’s memory alive by volunteering several times per week at the library named in his honor at the Thompson School. And I applauded when I saw her going door-to-door -- as only a dedicated grandmother can -- to support transgender rights for all in the Commonwealth.

Last year, Elaine wrote an article seeking reconciliation in town during a particularly contentious political season. After accidentally clicking on a Google Drive link, she found herself accused of trying to hack into confidential campaign information. Those who knew and loved Elaine chuckled at the thought that anyone could mistake her for a cyberterrorist. Her reaction was to marvel at this “social-media stuff,” reach out to her detractors, meet with some of them to clear up the misunderstanding and give them hugs.

One last hug

Elaine was very liberal with hugs. I once ran into her at Gold’s Gym, which she was visiting for the first time with her daughter. She ran up to me and warmly embraced me, at which point her daughter turned beet red and whispered, “Mom! You don’t hug people at the gym!” But Elaine couldn’t be stopped. For more than a year, aside from my wife and children, Elaine is the only person I have hugged … at her insistence, with masks on and heads turned. It was the last time I saw her.

I will so miss Elaine’s many stories … How she was accepted into the Boston University School of Social Work when the youngest of her six children was in kindergarten by telling the admissions officials that if they didn’t let her in, she would keep applying every year until they did. How she helped build a family swimming pool, operating a jackhammer when she was eight months pregnant. How she was such an admirer of Winston Churchill that she attended meetings of the Churchill Society every year, had a Churchill-themed room in her house, and was writing a children’s book about young Winston’s lonely youth and the loving nanny who stood in for his neglectful parents.

'Woman's Journey'

I regret deeply that Elaine will never get to finish that book. I regret also that Elaine’s incredible 2019 talk to the Arlington Historical Society, “A Woman’s Journey,” was not captured on video.

In her talk, Elaine told an amazing story about her own odyssey to balance her traditional roles with more contemporary exercises of freedom and activism. It was a truly motivational and inspiring presentation that I dearly wish my daughters and their friends could have heard.

Shortly before the pandemic, Elaine accompanied me to the Evening Contemplative Eucharist service at the chapel of the Sisters of St. Anne and Bethany House of Prayer. Despite nearly eight decades in Arlington, she had ever been to this beautiful and historic place. She was fascinated by the service, which included scripture and poetry, music and silence, and which was organized by and attended primarily by other women. Elaine was a person of great faith, but I never once heard her proselytize. Instead, she lived her faith to the fullest through her actions.

More than anything, I will miss Elaine’s sign-off to every conversation we had. She would say, “You are very dear to me.”

My own final note to Elaine read as follows:

Dearest Elaine,

Thank you for your presence on this Earth. You have made me a better person.
Love always,
Joe


April 3, 2021: Elaine Shea, who stood up for abused women, dies at 80

 


This remembrance was published Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

8th graders call for changes in town bylaw to boos...
 

Comments

Bob Sprague on Monday, 26 April 2021 19:00
Boards recall Shea's service

The following was submitted by Joan Axelrod for the Board of Youth Services:

The Board of Youth Services and the Arlington Youth Counseling Center would like to express our deep sadness on the passing of Elaine Shea. Elaine was one of the founders of the First Step program, a program for people affected by intimate partner violence.

For over 16 years, Elaine Shea, along with Mary Deyst and Claudette Lehaie ran monthly support groups where women who had experienced domestic abuse could gather, share, and connect with local resources. The group was conceived as a “ladies tea” where participants could find a moment of peace and dignity. Even after Elaine and her partners “retired”, the First Step program has continued to provide support for women affected by intimate partner violence,.

Elaine was not only a voice for victims of domestic abuse but also a constant community advocate for standing up and speaking out in the face of injustice. She was not afraid to offer her voice so others could be heard. Elaine’s husband, Bill, was honored at the Arlington Youth Counseling Center Gala in 2012 for his years of tireless contributions to the youth and families of Arlington, but that honor was one he surely shared with Elaine. Our thoughts go out to Elaine’s six children and their families.

[b]The following was submitted by Joan Axelrod for the Board of Youth Services:[/b] The Board of Youth Services and the Arlington Youth Counseling Center would like to express our deep sadness on the passing of Elaine Shea. Elaine was one of the founders of the First Step program, a program for people affected by intimate partner violence. For over 16 years, Elaine Shea, along with Mary Deyst and Claudette Lehaie ran monthly support groups where women who had experienced domestic abuse could gather, share, and connect with local resources. The group was conceived as a “ladies tea” where participants could find a moment of peace and dignity. Even after Elaine and her partners “retired”, the First Step program has continued to provide support for women affected by intimate partner violence,. Elaine was not only a voice for victims of domestic abuse but also a constant community advocate for standing up and speaking out in the face of injustice. She was not afraid to offer her voice so others could be heard. Elaine’s husband, Bill, was honored at the Arlington Youth Counseling Center Gala in 2012 for his years of tireless contributions to the youth and families of Arlington, but that honor was one he surely shared with Elaine. Our thoughts go out to Elaine’s six children and their families.
Guest - Barbara Thornton (website) on Wednesday, 07 April 2021 17:38
Elaine Shea

Joe Curro has done a wonderful and very moving job of capturing the life of Elaine Shea (as well as her husband Bill) and their influence on the life and culture of our town. Curro gives us an evocative reminder of the difference, the ripples of goodness, one life can make in a community like ours. She will be missed, but remembered.

Joe Curro has done a wonderful and very moving job of capturing the life of Elaine Shea (as well as her husband Bill) and their influence on the life and culture of our town. Curro gives us an evocative reminder of the difference, the ripples of goodness, one life can make in a community like ours. She will be missed, but remembered.
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