Sistersville High School Alumnus Serves Country, Retires
Editor’s note: This is the final chapter of a two-part series about John D. Shaw, Jr.
SISTERSVILLE – A Sistersville boy took a moment to look back on his life that he lived to the fullest.
John D. Shaw, Jr., Sistersville High School class of 46′, was a corporate lawyer and a top officer in the U.S. Air Force. His worked at the Pentagon and on Wall Street before he and his wife, Doris, retired to Maine’s southern coast.
During the course of Shaw’s military career, Shaw was ultimately promoted to the rank of Colonel following earlier promotions to the ranks of First Lieutenant, Captain, Major and Lt. Colonel. Once again he found himself in a highly competitive situation: there were only a limited number of positions available and the number of officers seeking to fill these positions far exceeded the positions actually available (especially for the ranks of Lt. Colonel and Colonel). Shaw received all of his promotions at the earliest possible time allowed by Air Force regulations and consistent with an excellent record.
Mindful of the extremely talented pool of competitors, Shaw enrolled in the Air War College course in an effort to give him an edge with the competition. The Air War College course entailed a massive workload, requiring him to devote many of his weekends and vacations to its pursuit. Shaw eventually completed the course and was awarded “Distinguished Graduate” status (top 10 percent of his class). Despite the heavy workload, Shaw completed the course while still a Major.
Shaw was offered the opportunity to work on special projects for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff our nation’s highest ranking military officer. Humbled by such an outstanding opportunity, Shaw reported for duty during the tenure of Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Shaw was only a Major at this time and was surrounded by some of the nation’s highest ranking and most talented officers.
“Maybe it was I learned growing up in Sistersville, but the people there liked me,” he said.
In consecutive and succeeding years, Shaw was again offered the opportunity to work in the Chairman’s Office, which he did, during the tenures of General George S. Brown and General David C. Jones the Chairmen who in turn succeeded the tenure of Admiral Moorer. The work was exciting and challenging. It involved matters of local, national, and international importance. One of the requirements to work in the Chairman’s office (among other things) was a Top Secret security clearance which Shaw held.
There were no reserve officer assignments in the Chairman’s Office. Accordingly, duty was performed at the Chairman’s invitation and continued at his pleasure.
“It was neither a place for on the job training nor a place where a person applied for a job,” Shaw said.
Since there were no reserve assignments, there was no need to have office space for any reservists including Shaw. The question then arose: where do we put Shaw when he performs his duty?
General Alexander M. Haig, then Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, had an office reserved for his use whenever he returned to the United States to meet with the Chairman and Secretary of Defense. This office was near the Chairman’s office. The Chairman’s staff told Shaw he could use General Haig’s office during the General’s absence, he said.
The Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force wanted Shaw to perform duty in the International Law section of the Judge Advocate Generals Department. This was another coveted assignment.
On one of these tours of duty, Shaw was advised that the Judge Advocate General was scheduled to give a speech at the Houston Space Center on the subject entitled “The Emerging Law Governing Outer Space”.
Shaw was asked to participate in the preparation of the speech. After Shaw’s work was completed and the speech delivered, his contribution to the project was acknowledged in an official USAF report as being “extremely useful”.
Shaw, while employed by New England Bell Telephone in Boston, also had contact with another distinguished Sistersville High School graduate: Chester May who, at the time, held a high level position in the financial department of AT&T. The financial Vice President at New England Bell Telephone asked Shaw if he knew “Chet” (mindful that both came from Sistersville). Shaw replied that while he had heard many good things about Chet May, and was acquainted with various members of his family, he had never actually met Chet May himself.
May was scheduled to come to Boston soon to meet with Erskine White President and Chief Executive officer of New England Telephone. Several officers of New England Telephone, mindful of the situation, arranged a meeting so that Chet May and John D. could, at last, meet each other. This meeting took place in the executive offices of the company just prior to the meeting with Mr. White. Chet and John D. reminisced about Sistersville High School and mutual friends in Sistersville. The discussion must have been of interest to other people in the room (who knew little, if anything, about Sistersville) because time slipped away from everyone in the vicinity. Finally, Mr. White’s executive secretary called and said White was eagerly waiting to start the meeting. The attendees left immediately for the meeting and Shaw returned to his nearby office.
Yet another meeting occurred with a SHS graduate this time purely by happenstance. At that time, Shaw was working on an important anti-trust project for AT&T at the company’s offices 195 Broadway, New York City. Work on the project lasted several months and Shaw was living at the New York Hilton Hotel Rockefeller Center. While descending in an elevator from one of the top floors in the hotel, the doors suddenly opened and in stepped Frank Cassis. Both Cassis and Shaw recognized each other immediately. Although both were on busy business schedules, they were able to chat briefly. It was a pleasure to visit with Cassis, a fellow Sistersville High School graduate.
Shaw said he was amazed that “they should meet under such unexpected circumstances in one of the busiest locations in the country.”
Life in Maine
Following the historic anti-trust breakup of AT&T,Shaw and others were offered attractive “buyout” opportunities (in addition to the usual retirement benefits) if they voluntarily elected to retire early.
Shaw, after discussions with his wife, Doris, decided to take early retirement. They spent the greater part of the next ten years travelling around the United States with brief visits to Mexico and Canada.
In the course of their travels they were struck by the great beauty of the state of Maine’s coastline. After a great deal of effort, time, and expense, the Shaws’ were able with an amazing stroke of good luck to purchase a prime 1 acre oceanfront lot in Southern Maine. So spectacular is the view of the ocean (270 degrees unobstructed ) that the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II built a tower on this very piece of property to watch for German submarines.
Shaw and his wife Doris live quietly in the senior years of their lives in their beautiful oceanfront home in York Harbor, Maine. Shaw and his wife hired a distinguished architect to design a home consistent with the beauty of the land itself. The design of the home and its construction took nearly three years to complete. The same architect that designed the Shaw’s home was also designing a home for a retired Vice President of the Microsoft Corporation. The latter home was the subject of a cover story in a national magazine. They have been told by knowledgeable people that their home (called “SeaScape”) is one of the finest private homes in the state of Maine.
“Sistersville and York Harbor have some similarities,” he said. “When I was in Manhattan, therew was a lot of noise and it was such a busy place. Up here (Maine), it’s isolated, quiet and perfect – much like Sistersville – perfect. And this place is along the ocean much like how Sistersville is along the Ohio River.”
As to Shaw’s children, Elizabeth and John III, they went onto have succesful careers.
Elizabeth graduated from Wellesley College Magna Cum Laude. She has also done work at Harvard University with a distinguished academic record. She lives with her parents in their home in York Harbor, Maine. She handles the day-to-day work relative to her Father’s investments and supervises the management of real estate in three states. In the performance of these duties she receives, when requested, helpful advice from her brother John D. III.
John D. III attended Duke University on a full scholarship, graduating with an AB degree. At the same time, he was awarded a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, ultimately retiring as a major. In his civilian career, John D. III is a Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch, a leading brokerage firm.