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Native Son Makes Splash as Attorney, Air Force Officer

By Staff | May 25, 2016


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series.

SISTERSVILLE – A native son who shone like the sun, rose above his West Virginia roots, but never forgot where he came from.

John D. Shaw, Jr., Sistersville High School class of 46′, was a high-powered corporate lawyer and top officer in the U.S. Air Force.

His life swirled around the top brass in Washington and legal eagles in New York City.

“I grew in West Virginia surrounded by honest people,” he said. “Then I find myself on Wall street, some of the most aggressive and brightest minds. That’s when I found out that some the values I had were of a great help to me. Growing up in Sistersville and West Virginia was a big help to me. People knew when they worked with me, they didn’t have to watch their flank.”

Shaw, 86, who now lives in Maine, recently reached out to the Tyler Star News so as to offer a friendly hello to his friends and classmates.

Shaw and his wife Doris have two children John D. Shaw III and Elizabeth Anne Shaw.

Shaw is the grandson of a pioneering oil family who settled in Sistersville in 1893.

He graduated from Sistersville High School (SHS) with the class of 1946 and has remained in touch with several of his classmates throughout the years.

SHS alumni weekend ahead, Shaw’s timing was perfect.

“I had a lot of friends in Sistersville,” he said. “Then and now. This way they’ll know where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I have a warm spot in my heart for Sistersville.”

Shaw was president of his high school class his junior and senior years. He won the coveted Jackson Award ($100 cash prize) for outstanding male student. He had the starring role in his class play for which his performance won spontaneous applause from the audience. Upon graduation, he received an outstanding letter of recommendation from the then principal of SHS Denver Arnette.

Life after Sistersville

Early on in his life, Shaw had two goals: he wanted to attend Duke University and, someday, to become a lawyer. Duke University was (and is) a prestigious southern institution. However, upon applying for admission, he soon learned that Duke was accepting only former Duke students whose education had been interrupted by World War II. Shaw then enrolled in Duquesne University (also a fine school, but not his favorite). Duquesne, located in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, was earlier named Holy Ghost College when John D.’s father attended the school many years earlier. His father’s diploma, dated 1902, hangs in a place of honor in the Shaw’s home in York Harbor, Maine.

Following the completion of his freshman year at Duquesne, Shaw once again sought admission to Duke University – only to learn that Duke was not accepting transfer students. Deeply discouraged, but still trying, Shaw traveled to Durham, NC and spoke with the admission authorities. Three weeks later only a few days before the start of his sophomore year Shaw received a notice of acceptance for enrollment in the sophomore class at Duke University. This was the start of an association that has lasted over 60 years profitable to both Duke and Shaw.

Shaw graduated from Duke in 1950 with an AB degree and a fine academic record. He then enrolled in the prestigious Duke Law School. At this time, Shaw made an important career decision that would affect the rest of his life. He decided he wanted to pursue two careers simultaneously: a civilian career and a military career. Although these were certainly laudable objectives, he soon learned they were vastly more difficult to achieve than he ever anticipated.

He wanted (someday) to be a Judge Advocate lawyer in the United States Air Force. After three years of effort, and a massive amount of hard work, Shaw was awarded a Bachelor of Law degree (LL.B) and at the same time a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Earlier, he had been designated a Distinguished Military Student by the Professor of Air Science and Tactics. While in law school, he served as a member of the Student Government Association (the top student organization), and was Social Chairman of the Duke Law School. The latter was probably the top student social position in the entire university.

During the course of his law school studies, Shaw decided he wanted to be an Anti-Trust lawyer as the civilian part of his two careers decision.

“Anti-trust is a very complicated area of the law,” he said. “It is to law much like neuro-surgery is to medicine. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to become proficient.”

Following graduation from Duke Law School, Shaw took and passed the West Virginia bar examination on the first try. Shortly thereafter, he entered the United States Air Force on extended active duty. He could have been assigned to duty anywhere in the world, but was actually assigned to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts – one of the largest Air Force Bases in the United States.

Shaw was officially designated a Judge Advocate Officer by the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force (a two star general). Following separation from extended active duty, Shaw served in the Active Reserve Program for many years. He retired in 1983 with 30 consecutive years of service (extended active duty and reserve duty combined).

During his extended active duty at Westover AFB, he served as either prosecuting attorney or defense council in over 90 Court Martial trials. Approximately 12 of these trials were General Court Martials which involved the most serious offenses. Upon separation from extended active duty, he received an outstanding letter of recommendation, unsolicited, from Colonel Arthur F. Hurley who had served earlier as the Executive Officer to the Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force. Colonel Hurley advised Shaw that he had been officially designated a Judge Advocate Officer sooner than any other young Judge Advocate Officer of which Colonel Hurley was aware.

Following separation from extended active duty, Shaw turned his primary attention to the civilian portion of his two career objective.

Shaw obtained employment with the anti-trust Division of the United States Department of Justice. Obtaining employment with this organization was highly competitive, despite its minimal salary. Lawyers sought these positions (despite their minimal pay) as they viewed it as an important stepping stone to later employment with a major corporation or a large prestigious law firm with much greater salaries and outstanding benefits.

Struck by the complexity of this area of law (i.e. Anti-trust), Shaw sought to broaden his knowledge by enrolling in the Cleveland Marshall Law School. He undertook a course of study leading to the award of the Master of Law’s degree (LL.M) and the Doctor of Juridical Science degree (S.J.D.). The latter degree is the highest degree which can be earned in the study of law and is equivalent to the PH.D degree. The S.J.D. degree is not frequently awarded; but probably more to law school professors who view it as a mark of academic excellence.

Shaw sought to earn these degrees at the same time he was employed full time by the Anti-trust Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

After several years of study, Shaw was eventually awarded both the LL.M and S.J.D degree at the same time. His Doctoral thesis was officially graded “Completed with Distinction” and in the opinion of the faculty it constituted a contribution to legal learning. At the graduation ceremony, in the presence of hundreds of attendees, the Dean of the law school – in awarding Shaw the two degrees said, “This man knows what hard work means”.

While employed with the anti-trust Division, Shaw was one of three lawyers prosecuting the famous White Motor Company case at the U.S. District Court level in Cleveland, Ohio. The government won the case which the defendant then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Solicitor General of the United States, upon the appeal, is purported to have said this was one of the most important anti-trust cases ever appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States and was factually very complicated.

Shaw’s appearance in this case, at the U.S. District Court level, is noted in the West Publishing Company’s report of the case.

Corporate Attorney

Armed with the advanced law degrees and considerable experience with the anti-trust Division, Shaw now sought employment in the legal department of a major corporation or nationally prominent law firm, although his preference was the former. He received several attractive offers of employment including New England Bell Telephone Company’s offer which he ultimately accepted.

New England Bell Telephone was an important subsidiary of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). AT&T, at the time, was the largest private corporation (in terms of assets) in the United States. The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the Boston area. His historic workshop was moved to the lobby of New England Bell’s home office building at 185 Franklin Street, Boston, Massachusetts where John D. and other executives had their offices.

Shaw was employed by New England Bell for 12 years. He was eventually promoted to the position of General Attorney one of the top management and legal positions in the company. This position placed Shaw among the top 25 employees out of a company work force of 53,000 employees.

Anti-trust concerns were becoming an increasingly important part of AT&T’s (the parent company) business. In addition to handling New England Bell’s Anti-trust matters, Shaw was “farmed out” to AT&T to assist with their Anti-trust matters. This work for AT&T was performed in New York City.

Eventually, Shaw received an attractive offer for full time employment with AT&T at its headquarters in New York City. However, this would require a move from the Boston area to the New York City area which the Shaws were reluctant to make. The requested move was brought about by the filing of the U.S. Department of Justice Anti-trust Division’s law suit against AT&T.

“This was the largest law suit ever filed (and eventually tried) in the 1500 year history of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence,” he said. “It eventually resulted in the breakup of the fabled AT&T Corporation. It changed the telecommunications landscape of America and affected millions of telephone users.”

Shaw said that case made history.

“So tremendous,” he said. “Unbelievable it was to defend that case. “Ultimately it resulted in the breakup of AT&T. I regretted to see the Bell system broken up. It was the finest telecommunications system in the world – no equal and now it was broken up.”

Next week, a follow-up article will include points of Shaw’s military career and notes about his retirement to Maine.