December 22, 1927 – January 31, 2021
HIGH POINT, NC – Nancy Barker Shaw, beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, godmother and friend, played out the final notes of a masterful lifelong recital on January 31, 2021.
Nancy was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 1927 to Iowa natives, Florence and Virgil Barker, who met in college. When she was four, the family relocated to Westfield, New Jersey, settling into a home designed by her father. Each bedroom had its own closet, a feature well ahead of its time and a source of pride for Nancy. She was a good student and, in her estimation, a good child. Though by nature she was apt to question most everything, it never occurred to her to defy her parents!
It was in Westfield that Nancy learned to play bridge and where her 14 years of piano study began. As a young adult she made frequent visits to New York City for fun and for summer jobs, which turned out to be useful on return trips later in life, when the city, too, had matured. That Nancy’s high school classmates voted her “Most Opinionated” in the senior class section of her yearbook will ring a familiar note among those who knew her well.
Nancy remained in Westfield until 1945 when she left to attend Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, bringing along a single suitcase, a typewriter, and a world of enthusiasm. At Bucknell, she joined Phi Mu sorority as well as Mu Phi Epsilon, an international music fraternity, and Sigma Delta Tau, a national sorority committed to empowering women. An excellent writer, Nancy earned a degree in English with a minor in Music. Upon graduation, although she intended to launch a career teaching English, she’d made no specific employment commitment. It was this uncharacteristic lack of a plan that would ultimately shape her future.
A fellow graduate — barely an acquaintance — had been offered the opportunity to drive Dr. Robert Oppenheimer’s Packard cross-country to California, and she needed a companion. Other young women were headed toward new jobs, or marriage, but Nancy was available and ready for adventure. Nancy’s college roommate, Doris (Roberts) Foulds, who lived in California, encouraged the visit. Virgil objected, but Florence prevailed. “If she were a boy, we’d let her go!” And, they did. As the day for departure neared, Doris announced that Nancy shouldn’t bother looking further for a husband, because her thoughtful roommate already had him picked out.
Enter Bob Shaw: Handsome southerner, Navy ensign, and shipmate of Don Foulds, Doris’s beau. The rest is history. Bob and Nancy were married in June 1950 after meeting in San Diego a year earlier.
During their Navy years, Nancy and Bob lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in Honolulu, Hawaii, where son Robert Hill (Rob) was born, and in Port Hueneme, California. They loved military life, particularly their time in Hawaii. Nancy never tired of reminiscing about their spontaneous parties and of being befriended by Admiral George Bauernschmidt and his family.
In civilian life starting in 1955, the Shaws lived in High Point, North Carolina until 1958, followed by 10 years in Overland Park, Kansas, where Donald Barker (Don) and Elizabeth Doran (Betsy) were born. It was in Overland Park that Nancy’s love of music made an indelible mark on the hearts of her kids. When she wasn’t practicing or playing Chopin, Tchaikovsky or Gershwin on her piano, she was filling the house with soundtracks from South Pacific, West Side Story or Oklahoma on her “Hi-Fi.” Her fondness for the Kansas City Chiefs turned her sons into lifelong fans. Nancy was a remarkable mother, raising three children semi-single-handedly while Bob traveled three weeks out of four for his job with Globe Furniture. But, it would be inaccurate to call her a “stay-at-home mom.” She rarely stayed home!
In 1968 the Shaws returned permanently to High Point, where Nancy devoted herself to her family and to civic efforts, most of them arts related. She served the North Carolina Symphony, Carousel Children’s Theatre, High Point Community Theatre, Community Concert and the High Point Arts Council. She was a Girl Scout leader as well as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, for which she was also a faithful blood donor, reaching 97 pints. She was disappointed to learn several years ago that she could no longer donate, because she’d had a few too many birthdays.
When she wasn’t excelling at being a wife, mother or volunteer, Nancy filled her remaining hours with creative pastimes. She disliked being idle and thrived in the company of others. Tennis and tap dancing, reading and writing, exercise classes and study groups, and so many bridge games – each wove beautiful chords into Nancy’s life. But of all her activities, her first love was choir, a passion which began in elementary school, continued through college and persisted into her twilight years. She sang alto in the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church choir for more than 50 years. Though she did not consider herself solo-material, she delighted in her supporting role and never lost her ability to sing on pitch and in time.
Nancy also loved to travel and did so with frequency. She and Bob, often accompanied by children or friends, were fortunate to take many trips together abroad and domestically. Nancy spent time in every U.S. state except one, an omission she claims was intentional, declaring that the unfortunate state was not worth visiting. Her preferred mode of travel was by car, and she was known to say that if there were enough bridges, she would drive around the world!
Faithful to those she cared about, Nancy made a point of maintaining connections. Her travel itineraries were configured around seeing kindred and kin, and her time at home was much the same. She was eager to organize the event, plan the party, make the phone call, sing the carols, rally the troops, and she was never too busy nor too reluctant to visit the infirm. Having all her family together was her greatest joy.
Nancy Shaw: optimistic and organized, talented and tenacious, her nimble fingers always tapping out imaginary tunes. Her life was a dynamic composition played from the heart, and we are all enriched for experiencing it with her.
Predeceased by her husband, Robert Hill Shaw, Jr. (Bob), her brother, Richard Alson Barker (Dick), and her parents, Nancy is survived by her children, Robert Hill Shaw, III and his wife Karen (Charleston, SC), Donald Barker Shaw and his wife, Carolyn (High Point), Elizabeth Shaw Beggins and her husband, Jim (St. Michaels, MD) and their respective children, Christopher Dalton Shaw (Tokyo, JP), Jefferson Brame Shaw (Chicago, IL), Lucas Moore Shaw (High Point), Karen Michaela Beggins (Santa Fe, NM) and Rachel Marie Beggins (McLean, VA). Also surviving are nephews, Jim, Steve, and David Barker; Jim and Randy Sparazza; many cousins, all of whom live out of state, and her godchild, Nancy Foulds Valett (Orange County, CA)
The family would like to give special thanks to Gina, Monica, Sandy, and Yvette, caregivers who were exceptionally supportive over the past nine months.
In lieu of flowers, Nancy would be eternally grateful for donations made to the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church Music Department, Traditional Music Ministry / Wesley Singers Endowment, 1225 Chestnut Drive, High Point, NC 27262. A celebration of a life well lived is planned for late spring.
Online condolences may be made on her memorial page at www.cumbyfuneral.com
Cumby Family Funeral Service
1015 Eastchester DR High Point
Published by Winston-Salem Journal on Feb. 7, 2021.