The final dismissal bell rang for life-long educator, Dr. Joy Shaw, on Tuesday morning, May 10, 2022. Dr. Shaw had a legendary career as a teacher, principal, district administrator and school board member for the Red Oak Independent School District. She was a Red Oak High School alumna, graduating in 1956, and the mother of four ROHS Hawks: Deborah, Pamela, Rhonda and Scott. She dedicated her life to making ROISD a stronger, better place for her kids and for all kids. She believed like Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai that “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
When asked about her dreams for the future upon graduating high school, Joy flippantly declared that she would go to college, be an English teacher and drive a red sports car convertible. She did go to college, Texas Wesleyan, but only for a year before marrying James Vereen (Nick) Shaw, her husband for an astonishing 64 years, and starting a family. While raising four kids, she saw the need for a kindergarten in Red Oak, because the school district did not offer it. She created that kindergarten at the local Methodist Church and taught it herself for five years. When her youngest, Scott, started first grade, Joy went back to college, commuting daily to UT-Arlington and what was then North Texas State University, graduating from NTSU in 1973. She did not become an English teacher. She taught social studies. She did not drive a red convertible. She drove a station wagon.
Dr. Shaw led the kind of life you hold up to others as an example. She got things done. She persevered. She had big dreams and she did not give up. Born in 1938, she grew up the baby of the family on a hardscrabble piece of land down on Brushy Creek, her daddy’s “first black-land farm.” During and after World War II, her parents, Wallace and Hazel Cockerham, raised four kids in an old farm house, planting cotton, praying for peace and planning for a better future. They supported Red Oak ISD by serving – Wallace on the School Board for many years and Hazel as a charter member of the PTA. Education was important to the Cockerham family and Joy benefited from how seriously they took it. An education was the way to get off the farm, to have a better, easier life. She told a story when she received the Red Oak ISD Distinguished Alumni award about herself and her brother, Gordon, being home for weeks, sick with Scarlet Fever and him teaching her how to read when she was four years old. “He talked me into it,” quipped Dr. Shaw, “by reminding me that I didn’t have a job. And I needed one. And it was important. I guess he was the first person who changed my life. And he did it by teaching me something.”
Joy Shaw most definitely would teach you something. She was an aggressive learner and a determined educator. And as they firmly believe in her family, “Momma don’t tolerate.” Dr. Shaw had no patience for complainers and whiners, no sympathy for the lazy and the unmotivated. She always had high expectations of children – her own and those of others. She would push people to accomplish great things and she was not shy in expressing her faith in a person’s capacity or her belief in their dreams. Dr. Shaw would tell you the truth about yourself even when you did not want to hear it, yet she would always follow-up with help for your challenges and a hug for your heart. She was an old-school proponent of hard work, good manners and civic duty. Any and all students and teachers who worked with her through the decades got a strong dose of this philosophy with a chaser of plain old grit. There was never a better role model for taking care of business.
Nick and Joy moved their family of six back to Red Oak in the summer of 1966, moving into that same old farm house where Joy grew up. When the Shaw parents made the decision that she should go back to college for her degree, they mobilized the troops on the ground. The charts went up, the jobs were assigned, rotations went into effect and the machinery of the family front went into high gear as the stay-at-home-mom became an undergrad, a field marshal and a logistics expert overnight. Getting four kids dressed for school in the morning became a full-participation routine with assigned muster positions. There was a rotation for watching for the bus, choosing the after-school cartoon and prepping dinner. Laundry had weekly shifts of sorting, washing, folding and putting away. Saturdays were set aside for bathrooms, dusting and vacuuming while kitchen detail was its own weekly task. Feeding dogs, trash removal and yard work was a permanent position enjoyed by the only boy, the baby boy, on this crew. Joy and Nick were always teachers, always coaches and their parenting style reflected their belief in high standards and teamwork.
Once order reigned on Brushy Creek, Joy Shaw embraced higher education and became a teacher, partnering with Red Oak ISD for a 35-year run. She worked as a custodian (bringing along her kids as a crew) and as a bus driver. She taught junior high social studies, fifth grade, coached volleyball when Title IX passed and progressed through her masters and doctorate degrees, while Nick Shaw built her a house. It was a home she lived in for nearly 40 years.
Then, upon urging from Superintendent Don Shields, himself a legend, Joy Shaw became an elementary school principal. As the principal, she had the bully pulpit and put it to good use advocating for special education and special needs students. She implemented comprehensive Dyslexia instruction and she created two of the first teaching units in the state for students born on the Autism spectrum. She went to bat for ROISD special education teachers, parents and kids pulling ROISD out of the county cooperative and setting up a designated department to focus on the needs of Red Oak students and securing their rights under federal law. She could be a zealot, but she fought for access and accountability for students before it was a popular issue. She was an activist without even realizing it.
All she knew was that she was a mom and a teacher and she cared about kids. Because of this, she changed lives. She is the reason a young mom felt empowered to go back to school. She is the reason countless students even dreamed of going to college. She is responsible for encouragement and support and generosity on an epic scale. She has been the cheerleader and the mom and the boss and the problem-solver for so very many children and their parents. Her family has always understood that they shared her with a community. They consider it an honor to have a mother who was able to spread her arms so wide and touch so many, leaving a legacy for which they will always take great pride.
Please join the family for the Dr. Joy Shaw Maroon and White Memorial Service and Pep Rally (please dress accordingly) at the Red Oak High Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 28 at 10:00 am with a graveside gathering at Red Oak Cemetery following. There will also be a visitation at Wayne Boze Funeral Home from 6 – 8 pm on Friday, May 27. The address is 1826 W. Hwy 287 Business in Waxahachie. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to the Red Oak ISD Education Foundation.
Hug your momma. Thank a teacher. Learn to cook. And give a damn.