We knew him a long time, but for years not very well. That changed in 2003 when our daughter, Julie, went to work for Rep. E. Clay Shaw in his Washington office. She was looking for work in Washington, and, coincidentally, he was looking to hire another person who knew his South Florida district. Julie did know the home territory. She was the only one of our four kids to be born here. St. Anthony grade school, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, FSU – a similar path as his own family. When he lost in 2006, he recommended her to another Republican member of the House, David Camp of Michigan, and she worked for him until marriage and motherhood took them apart.
Republican. That word is important. Clay Shaw first entered politics in the 1970s, when Republicans dominated Broward County, at least the Fort Lauderdale area. That was to change, fairly quickly, but Shaw served for 26 years in Congress, even after the demographics of his district changed and made his re-elections more difficult. He should never have lost, but as he aged, the people who knew his qualities best also aged, and many went above. He never liked campaigning, especially the fundraising aspect.
The mid-term election of 2006 was a tough time for all Republicans, even in what were considered safe districts. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee were demolished. Events that had nothing to do with Shaw, such as the Mark Foley scandal and the Terri Schiavo controversy gave Democrats ammo that year.
Had he survived that election, he likely would have won easily two years later, as the Republican tide made a mild recovery. He was a noted non-partisan and his presence in Washington would have been welcome in a day when so many Republicans are against anything President Obama is for, even when it is a position they themselves previously endorsed. And vital subjects such as Social Security and Everglades restoration were his specialties.
Illustrating his statesmanlike nature, he did a local public television show and invited government figures from around the country. Often they were Democrats, and he would point that out, usually with a jest, but invariably raising their stock by letting them share the stage with a man who was an experienced and highly respected House member. Although a Republican, he was never on the extreme right, and managed to like even those on the extreme left. For want of a better word, he was a middle man.
Julie Donovan, who worked as his scheduler (also known as his gate keeper), had a front-row seat of the last years of that era. She recalls:
"Mr. Shaw was the mayor of Fort Lauderdale when I was born and the only House representative I knew growing up. His service and accomplishments spanned my lifetime. He and Mrs. Shaw (you can't say one name without the other) treated all the staffers like family, and I absolutely loved working for him and for Florida’s District 22. We both took such pride in calling it 'home.'"
To those close to the congressman, his ability to connect was obvious. Julie Donovan remembers:
“Mr. Shaw and Charlie Rangel, another long-time member of the House and also a member of the Ways and Means committee, had a friendly working relationship. It was such fun to watch the two of them go head to head on the networks. They would have their disagreements but it was always very respectful. Mr. Shaw spoke often about this, and how much he missed the old days when Congress was less partisan and relationships more meaningful.”
We bury the man with the prayer that some fine day it will be that way again.