Monday, May 20, 2013

Remembering Larry is to Remember All Families

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 20. 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Last week marked a sad and special anniversary for my family, one we observed quietly and reflectively.  It was 20 years ago this month that my wife’s dad, Larry W. Shaw of Norton, passed away after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. 

            The world is full of stories like this.  Nearly every family has had an experience where a beloved member was afflicted by a disease that robbed them of their best years.  It is something to which almost all of us can relate.

            But it is important the story of people like Larry be told and remembered.  Far too often people are judged and memorialized based upon how they handled the challenging illnesses they faced.  They get defined by their disease, and that is grossly unfair.  So I thought I would talk about Larry a little bit, to honor him and all those who have been in his situation.

            In the 1950’s Larry Shaw was living the American Dream.  He was 28 years old and married to a wonderful woman with three daughters and another on the way.  He had a good job with Texas Instruments in Attleboro, and had moved his family from Rhode Island to Norton.  He bought a house on Plain Street, and eventually moved to Pond Street on the Norton Reservoir. 

            His work at TI was important and fascinating.  He helped develop several patents.  He engineered dimming lights and intercoms in his home long before it was popular.  He had a workshop in his cellar where everything was in tis place and you could virtually eat off the floor.  He was intense yet funny, and his future was limitless.

            Then he started having some physical issues.  He kept falling down a lot.  His legs were bothering him.  He started having vision problems.  There were multiple visits to the doctor, and lots of tests.  Finally, when they could find nothing else, doctors proclaimed him to have MS.  It was a scary and devastating diagnosis of a disease that would end up also claiming the life of his youngest daughter.

            But Larry and his close-knit family merely viewed it as something to be dealt with, like any other problem.  Larry started wearing braces on his legs, and walked with a cane.  Then he proceeded to using metal crutches.  He began utilizing a motorized cart at work, and adapted his Buick station wagon with hand controls so he could drive without using his legs. 

He also still managed an occasional drive in his beloved Model A antique car.  He had saved “Bessie” during the 1954 hurricane and had kept her running and in great shape.  He loved taking his daughters out for a Sunday drive in her, and they fought over who would sit in the rumble seat.

            He remained active in his church and his community.  He was a member of Norton Singers and helped his beloved wife with musicals for them and at church.  He was a member of the Norton Conservation Commission, reflecting his concern for the environment before it was politically popular. 

            Despite being confined to a wheelchair by that time, he was vice chairman of the building committee that constructed the current Norton High School in the early 1970’s.  He contributed his engineering expertise and perspective on the handicapped to help build a school from which all four of his daughters would graduate. 

            When his oldest daughter and I graduated in 1974, we were the first class to have spent a year in the new school.  Larry was proud of that, and three years later I was proud when I married Cynthia and officially became a part of his amazing family.

            The last few decades of Larry’s life were pretty much spent bedridden, but at home thanks to the care given him by his family.  He never lost that smile that lit up the room, and he lived to see four of his eight grandchildren.  He would love the fact his great-grandson looks so much like him today.

            There are so many stories out there of people like Larry and their families.  I tell this tale today not to bemoan their loss, but rather to celebrate the lives they led.  They are an inspiration to us all.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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