by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
November 17, 2006
+ Honora Theresa Dooley Shea +
May 11, 1914 - November 11, 2006
The Soul of Kindness, The Heart of Good
Eulogy: Nina D. Shea
MONROE, NY., Nov. 17, 2006 -- Good morning, and on behalf of the Shea Family, our thanks to each and every one of you who came here to be with us this morning.
It must have been fun to be bright and young in New York City in 1936, even with the Depression and its jobless millions and the hungry men and women of the soup kitchens everywhere around them. When John Shea of Monroe and New York City married Nina Dooley of Harriman, she was a willowy, beautiful 22-year-old, full of joy and innocence, and he an up-and-coming young politician with a bright future amid the rough-and-tumble world of New York City politics.
The nightlife of the time was fast and inviting; everyone sounded like a character out of Damon Runyon's notebook, the nation was growing more hopeful about an exit from the Depression, which was then at its height, and the newsreels at the movies were full of talk about the strange German who would soon be known one history's greatest murderers and shape the events that led to World War II.
They were heady years, and while our mother soon had two young children, Mary Ann and Johnny, and was fortunate enough to have her husband at her side through some of the war, it could not have been entirely fun to begin the difficult life of a postwar bride with her young children, now brightened by the birth of Billy, all waiting for the safe return of her husband from Occupied Germany.
Their world, in a few short years, had utterly changed; America's isolation from the tumult of European wars was gone, and as our nation lead the way out of the treacherous rubble of the world war, there began to be new and difficult challenges for Nina and John as he returned home. The 1948 loss of their Republican champion, Thomas Dewey, to President Harry S Truman might have been good for the country but was difficult for them.
Economics ruled that their future would be best made on the rural 50-acre farm in Monroe that Dad's father, John S. Shea had just left them. Monroe offered little of the charms of New York City, such as they were, through the long dark Winters. As I was born and Pat was born, Dad sought work first with the Bureau of Prisons as an accountant at Sing Sing and then through the civil service in the Air Force at Stewart Field in Newburgh. Each day there were 20 cows to milk, five young children to feed and cope with and get started in school, and all the very serious and difficult work of a marriage to maintain.
And that was about the time when we younger Sheas came to consciousness, so to speak - it was more like a volcano exploding in that house - beginning ourselves to learn about the world around us and seeing much of it through our parents' eyes. It was foremost a world of hard work and low pay - I think Dad earned about $3,000 a year in the new Air Force job - and the stresses of it were felt by both of them. Into the mix also came demon alcohol, and its presence was an issue off and on for the remainder of their lives. But it was an issue that obscured as many things as it revealed, and as the '50s and '60s unfolded, there was nothing more greatly obscured than the profoundly special qualities our mother was demonstrating to her children even as she remained unaware of them herself.
The other day, my brother Patrick made the telling point that much of what we knew about Mom - about her patience, her deep commitment to her family, her love, her warmth and gentle simplicity, and not least of all her high intelligence - remained something of a mystery to her. For one reason or another, she may never have come to appreciate what we did in her, and while that may seem a tragedy from our perspective, from her it may have been thre source of the great humility and kindness she radiated throughout her life.
I hope that through the days to come as we share the stories of her life and ours - the times we went to the blueberry field and filled our buckets with big, ripe berries she'd cook with through the Winter, the great days on Walton Lake when she held the concession at Schaefer's and ran a thriving business as Pat and I tried to eat her into bankruptcy, the wonderful smells on a cold Winter day of fresh bread baking in her oven and butter being churned in the kitchen - those memories that are an indelible part of us will come to life again, cherished and renewed for another generation of Sheas and Dooleys and Connells and Kieses.
Those memories would never be complete without a mention of her beloved mother, our Grandma Dooley, a woman of great drive and determination who nonetheless never failed to entertain her grandchildren with an endless trove of songs she'd learned in the sweatshops of New York and poetry she'd memorized at the knee of her father, a teacher and shoemaker in County Waterford, Ireland. Mom's dad started out as a coach driver for John D. Rockefeller, and then for the Harriman Family in Arden, N.Y., where Grandma came to work after surviving the tragic Triangle Shirt Factory fire shortly after her arrival in the United States.
Mom's childhood was an idyllic one with her beloved brother Jack and her sisters Helen and May, an invincible quartet of Dooleys whose descendant, Patrick Dooley, we are honored to have with us today. They were stars of the Monroe High basketball team, apt and able at academics, and always popular. When Mom lost her brother as he drove to Mass on a New Year's Day morning, it was her first hint of the potential for tragedy that lies hidden in each idyllic life.
Tragedy would not be her legacy, however. Her quiet determination, her selfless love of her family, her hard work and above all, her gentle soul, would lead her family through want and wars and hurricanes, through the dark Winters into the bright Springs. And I know with certainty that of all of Nature, her fondest thing was the robin who was first to return each Spring. She would hear its song in the pear tree and exclaim, "There's the first robin!"
Her Springs were many and her Winters few; she saw much more hope than she saw Depression, and she left her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and her many nieces and nephews with a generous gift of hope and optimism. And she always reminded us, even as the years brought her great prosperity that she typically ignored, to "Roll up our treasures in Heaven," and "To seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all else shall be given unto you."
She was a great, good, generous, loving, kind and deeply endearing woman who made our lives whole, and she gave us a light by which to see the future. We go on to make that now, as she watches from a safe place beside her husband and our brother Johnny.
Let us use that in this life to accomplish much, to love many, and to live with the hope that we, too, will face our own challenges and make a life for the many that follow. Like the gentle swans they truly were to each other, who take just a single mate for life, and swiftly follow the other in passing, John and Nina Shea now are joined in the eternally breathtaking landscape of Heaven.
Before we join them there, may each of us do as much as Mom and Dad have to make our world a better one through the principles of intelligence, compassion and generosity that guided their lives. May God Bless them and all of us, who today send our beloved Mother to her great reward.
This eulogy for Nina Shea, the mother of American Reporter Editor-in-Chief Joe Shea, was delivered at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Monroe, N.Y. at her funeral Mass on Nov. 17, 2006.