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Paying tribute to Bob Shaw. A man who made us better

Paying tribute to Bob Shaw.  A man who made us better
By Dick Yarbrough
Paying tribute to Bob Shaw.  A man who made us better
By Dick Yarbrough

My boss and mentor at Southern Bell, Jasper Dorsey, taught me a lot about the business world. He also taught me a lot about the world beyond business. One of his precepts was that we have an obligation to leave this a better world than we found it. Otherwise, we have just taken up time and space and wasted a life.

Those wise words came to mind last week at the going-home service for my friend, Bob Shaw. His was a life well-lived over his 95 years on this planet, and he certainly made this a better world by his presence in it. How so? Let me count the ways.

Bob Shaw was first and foremost a family man. He married his sweetheart, Elaine Smith, ran a prosperous insurance business and raised four daughters, one of whom predeceased him. His wife died in 2016. Along with his daughters, he is survived by 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The love and respect of his family was evident at his service. His grandchildren related their experiences with “Big Daddy” that were both poignant and humorous. Undergirding it all was a sense of great respect that a very important person was never too important to be their grandfather and their friend.

Bob Shaw was the godfather of the Republican Party in Georgia. He was chairman of the state GOP when they could have held their convention in a phone booth. He encouraged folks like Johnny Isakson, Paul Coverdell and Newt Gingrich to get into the political arena. He also served as vice chairman of the Republican National Committee alongside George H.W. Bush.

Walking into Bob Shaw’s home in suburban Atlanta was like walking into a piece of Republican Party history. On the wall of his study were pictures of him with the Who’s Who of the GOP: Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon. James Baker. Gerald Ford. Newt Gingrich. George H.W. Bush. Ronald Reagan.

On his 90th birthday, local Republicans held a long-overdue tribute for Shaw. “There were over 250 people in attendance, including a lot of our elected officials,” he told me at the time. “In the presentation, they talked about the history of what I did to get the Republican Party going in Georgia, and a lot of them sat there their mouths open. They didn’t know all that.” They should have. They know it now.

Bob Shaw was a gospel singer. That is putting it mildly. Robert J. Shaw is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. After having served during the Korean War, he became the lead singer with the gospel group, the Revelaires. He was later invited to join the Jordanaires, who would become the backup group for Elvis Presley. He declined. And for good reason. Too much travel. “My family came first,” he once told me. That didn’t mean Bob Shaw abandoned his love of music. He was director of music at First Baptist Church of Chattahoochee in Atlanta for over 60 years.

Bob Shaw was a mentor. There were numerous examples cited where someone asked for just a few minutes of his time seeking advice and counsel, only to spend an hour or more with him. Two men who were influenced early in their careers by his mentorship were Rusty Paul, the mayor of Sandy Springs, and longtime Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig L. Schwall, both of whom delivered moving eulogies.

Paul, a former chair of the state Republican Party himself, not only learned the ABC’s of politics from his mentor, he also had the privilege of singing gospel music with him, as well. To Judge Schwall, Bob Shaw was not only a counselor and political advisor, he was a father figure who treated him as a son. Their mutual respect and affection for each other transcended politics.

So, why am I telling you this? It is because I saw firsthand in Bob Shaw’s going-home celebration what Jasper Dorsey had been trying to get me to understand. Yes, there were a few tears shed, but mainly it was a celebration of a life well-lived and one that has made this a better world as a result. He has set the bar high for the rest of us.

Bob Shaw was not only a devoted family man, a historically-significant political figure, a Hall of Fame gospel singer and a valued mentor to countless numbers of people, he was also my friend. I will miss him. We all will.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.

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