Williams Crew Remembers John "Jack" A. Shaw '62

Photo courtesy of John Petke '68
Photo courtesy of John Petke '68

John "Jack" A. Shaw '62, founder and first coach of the modern Williams Crew program, passed away from heart failure at his home in Chevy Chase, MD, on April 5, 2020. 

In the late 1960's to early 1970s, Jack served as an Assistant Professor of History at Williams.  During that time, he invested his time and money to reestablish the rowing program, which had been dormant since the 1940's.  The current Williams boathouse is named for Coach Shaw, and each year the program honors an athlete with the "Shaw Award," recognizing the qualities of persistence, perseverance and dedication.  

In learning of his passing, several alumni and coaches have shared their memories, the positive influence Jack had on them, and the mountains he moved to get the crew off the ground during his time at Williams.  

"Jack will be forever in my heart and I think in the heart of thousands of men and women of Williams College Crew because it was through his genius expressed in so many ways -- generosity, creativity, ingenuity, energy, love, passion and amazing perseverance --- to begin and establish one of the finest collegiate rowing programs in the country. He was a visionary in so many ways and although it was his heart which failed him on that fateful day -- he had a huge heart of gold and a heart like none other in the world for what he gave and did for so many." 

  • Peter Wells '79, Head Coach 1982 - 2017

"I was part of the small gang of students who joined with Jack Shaw in re-launching Williams Crew in 1967-68. He recruited the few of us who had some experience rowing in high school, and we chewing-gummed and baling-wired the thing together. Jack was charismatic, self-effacing, but also visionary and determined. And let's not forget, he funded the crew out of his own pocket. I am not even sure if the College gave it official Club status, or if Jack just "did it. He paid for the boats, for renting space on Lake Onota. He came up with a launch and motor and fuel. He connected with Harry Parker (yes, THE Harry Parker) at Harvard to give us a hand. He did it all out of his own pocket, including a couple of Spring Break trips to Rollins College in Florida." 

  • Skip Kotkins '70

"As a member of that first crew I have a deep appreciation for all that he accomplished. Having come from Kent we had been working on getting this going for some time before we actually managed to walk barefoot into the pebbles in the lake with that monster of a shell. Rest easy, Jack."

  • Jennifer Wolcott '70

"I joined the crew as a sophomore in spring 1968 as coxswain and it was a fun and challenging season.  The crew had last raced in the 1930's and I think had not won a race in a century perhaps.  But Jack obtained two donated shells and our first task was to recondition those in his yard by applying fiberglass to the hulls. Overall the experience was fun for me.  Jack was a great coach, very encouraging and an overall nice guy."

  • Ken McCurdy '70

"Jack Shaw was my professor. It developed that we shared an interest in crew. His interest was entrepreneurial: why not try another crew for Williams? The College was a keen observer so Jack was on his own. First issue: where to find suitable water. Onota Lake became the place. Good water, albeit just long enough to support a race. We learned how to "way enough" quite rapidly thereby saving our shells from certain destruction! Next: where to find talent? Turned out, Williams didn't have experienced oarsmen in those days. So, Professor Shaw, knowing that I was manager of the football team, asked about its players. Several had no spring sport so we became the nucleus. What about shells? At that time Pococks were the safe bet: sturdy, stable but not too fast. Donoraticos, on the other hand, were the Ferraris of the sport. They were sleek, sprightly and very fast. They did require skilled oarsmen as they were far more sensitive than Pococks. No matter, Donoraticos it was and off too Onota we went in the fall for our first training. No races. just figuring out what this rowing thing was all about. Williams Crew today is unrecognizable from that herculean Shaw effort. But, without the effort and the faith that went with it, there would be no Williams Crew. He made a difference, an enormous difference, on and off the water! Jack was indefatigable and generous. And we had great fun!"

  • Chip Broadhurst Jr  '69

"....the incredible, selfless, dedication to a cause that had no blueprint, no funding, no facilities, and a twice previous failure at an institution that should have been able to "Coach em up",  for a cause that John Shaw '62 could "...see clearly.....when lesser visionaries would routinely question, criticize, and fail to see, while Jack cared more for Williams, Ephs (including, no doubt, men and WOMEN), and a better future for ALL of us, such that we can be now, and forever, inspired by the likes of John Shaw '62, whose footsteps can be seen following those giant footprints of the ultimate Eph Visionary, that farmer, teacher, volunteer militia member, College Donor, Colonel Ephraim Williams. Yes, Coach John Shaw epitomized the immortal words of Luke 12:48, namely,...."...to whomsoever much is given, so too is much expected..." May the Spirit and Success of John Shaw '62 continue to inspire us all!"

  • Jon Petke '69 

"While I never had the opportunity to meet Jack in person, he and I had several phone conversations -- one only a month ago. During these talks I was struck by his endless love and enthusiasm for Williams, the athletes he coached, and the sport of rowing."

  • Marc Mandel, Head Coach, Williams Men's Crew