A Happy Family Gets Some Unhappy News
On Monday, April 11, 1977 I got a call from my mother. Something was wrong with my brother Joe. He had a dizzy spell and called the office to ask where he was supposed to be going. Betty, his secretary, was concerned and made him go see a doctor. They did a CT scan, but found nothing. But we were all worried. Mother was understandably very worried, and began to dose him with potassium (bananas) and vitamins. Then, in July, she called again. Joe had been at home when suddenly he felt an excruciating pain in his head. The pain was so great he went out of the house screaming. Keith Kennard, his neighbor and a doctor, was summoned and got Joe to the hospital, where they did an immediate CT scan which showed a brain tumor, which had burst. They surgically removed the bloody mass and discovered that the tumor was malignant and dendritic, too deep and entangled in his brain now to be operable. It was a glioma, a highly aggressive, inoperable, terminal cancer. Those were the key words from what my mother told me. The doctors gave him only five months. Joe was only 43, with three children. Overnight our lives had changed forever.
Up till this point, my family had never had any real sadness, so this was a test for us. We had all been very fortunate, and let me tell you how, before going any further. For me, growing up in a large family has been one of the chief joys and supports of my life. In the convent, I wasn't able to attend the marriages of Kathleen or Carol or Joe, but I got to know their spouses—Dick Connor, Bob Miller and Pat Graney-- and felt they all made excellent marriages. After final profession, I was allowed one home visit a year , and during those visits, I could follow the progress of the families. The older ones may remember me visiting in my habit and playing the guitar--the Singing Nun. Therese once showed me pictures wearing my habit with her children, back in the early 60s. After I left the convent in 1966 and settled in Chicago, I continued to visit Kansas City frequently and watched the families grow. The three youngest--Malachy, David, and Mary Kate (my godchild), were born after I left the convent.
"West side Irishman"
Joe followed in his father's footsteps to Notre Dame and architecure, where he earned a bachelor of architecture in 1955. After graduation he married Pat Graney, and with her had three children—Michael (b. 1958), Mary Rose (b. 1963), and David (b. 1968). Joe worked for Dad at Shaughnessy, Bower and Grimaldi. He received a special AIA citation in 1961 for his work on the East Side urban renewal project. Perhaps it was this interest in urban renewal that prompted him to get a Master's Degree in Architecture from the University of Illinois in 1962, focusing on urban design. He was an associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois from 1963-1964. Back in Kansas City again, he received several architectural awards, including the Urban Design Award, and the AIA Medal Award in 1968. He worked at Dad's until Dad retired in 1970,and started his own firm, Shaughnessy Associates, Architects. His buildings include Savior of the World Seminary, Rockhurst High School, the Independence Plaza Housing Project, and the Missouri Division of Employment Security building at 1411 Main.
Joe and Pat chose to live in an older neighborhood, Roanoke, in Westport, on 3668 Madison, and their children grew up there and went to Redemptorist or Good Counsel for grade school.
Joe and Pat lived a life focused not so much on family as on community, on neighborhood, politics, and in the Post-Vatican II 60’s, on a more liberal Church. He and Pat were among the founders of Community One, a non-territorial parish that met for Mass on Sunday at Notre Dame de Sion and attracted priests like Norm Rotert and nuns and liberal Catholics, some associated the National Catholic Reporter. Publisher Michael J. Greene and his wife Biz, Donald J. Thorman (who replaced Mike as publisher and had written The Emerging Layman) and his wife Barbara. Community One echoed Thorman’s ideas (growing out of Vatican II) that it was time for the Church to give the laity some voice:
“These men and women represent a new force within the church. They are not rebellious or seeking power; quite the contrary. But they represent a growing reservoir of brains and talent that deserve to be - and indeed must be--utilized in the service of the church. Yet there are no clear-cut channels through which their voice may be heard, through which they may prudently and humbly exert a beneficial pressure on the Church.” .
Don and his wife Barbara were among Joe and Pat’s best friends. Also from Community One were Tom Slaughter, Walt Bodine, Jim Rice, Charles Brenneke, and Phyllis and Marion Trozzolo. Trozzolo was a college professor who developed the River Quay in the 70’s, only to have it ruined by the Mob in the late 70’s.
Perhaps it was Marion’s interest in and success in creating a vibrant neighborhood at River Quay that gave Joe his desire to promote and make the Westport/Roanoke neighborhood vital. In that neighborhood of Victorian homes Joe and Pat made some lifelong friends: Lois and Bernard Ernst, Bob and Patty Reagan, lawyer Ned and Joyce Holland; doctor Keith and Patty Kennard; lawyer Marshall Miller; lawyer Barton and Anne Blond; Jack and Jenny Cane; Ann and John Embry; lawyer Dean Williams (who owned the house that Pat later bought); architect Carey Goodman, who lived in house near the Canes (who bought Pat’s house and modernized it) Gordon and Sue Scholes; Chuck and ____ Schmidt; the Schroegers; and Roger Freeman. Some neighbors, like the Di Simones, came from Community One, which flourished post Vatican II. It became so large that it had to be divided in two and then it fell apart. At holidays, all the neighbors seemed to visit each other or have open house for the neighborhood. At Christmas, Mother complained that Joe and Pat and their children were always late for the family dinner because they had to attend all the neighborhood parties first.
Joe and Pat were drawn into politics because of their interest in the neighborhood. Jjust across the Southwest Trafficway from Roanoke lay Valentine, a neighborhood of small homes. Kansas City Life was systematically buying these houses up, renting them, neglecting them until they were condemned, then tearing them down, so they could develop the area for office properties. Roanoke fought Kansas City Life to keep the neighborhood and prevent it from deteriorating. Joe and Ned Holland and Joe Gillespie even bought a house there, vowing never to sell. Joe rolled the house over to Joe Gillespie, with the understanding that he could never sell “the little house on the prairie.”
This interest in neighborhoods would lead Joe into a political career. A lifelong Democrat, he ran for and won by a landslide a seat on the City Council. He was Councilman-at-large, 2 nd District, in 1971 for Roanoke. He spent his years in office trying to make the city aware of the needs of neighborhoods. This was the time of white flight and neighborhoods were changing very rapidly. He gained such prominence that he even ran for mayor in 1975, but lost in the primary.
Mother had been thrilled when Joe was a councilman and always in the news, but she wasn’t thrilled when he and our rascal cousin Ray (Bud) Johnson—who made us all laugh--opened Plaza Spirits together on the Plaza. What was Joe thinking? Didn’t he have enough to do as an architect and councilman without getting involved with a liquor store? She also didn’t know what to make of Half Inc. Development and Construction Co., his partnership with a black contractor. Nor did she know why he wanted to be a member of the NAACP. And there was talk of buying a farm with another of his friends. Didn’t he have a finger in too many pies? And when Pat announced that she was opening an architectural salvage business in the Olde Theater on Westport, Mother just shook her head. What about their children? The children were raised by the neighbors, Mother said. Indeed, whenever I was there, the kids were usually at the neighbors houses and the neighbors were at the Shaughnessys’. Mother complained that she was never invited to visit, but in the Roanoke neighborhood, no one was invited; they just dropped in.
The Long Goodbye
When I got that call from home in July that Joe had cancer and only five months to live, I was in the midst of teaching a summer session. I couldn't get away until August. As soon as I could, I drove to Kansas City on August 9, and immediately went to the hospital, where Joe was taking his radiation treatment. How changed he was from when I had last seen him. He had lost a lot of weight, wore hats because they had shaved his head to do the surgery and radiation. He was having to relearn how to live on new terms. Because of the location of the tumor on the left side, all the left brain skills were impaired --he couldn't really read, couldn't organize. He had to give up his architectural practice and took occupational therapy to relearn simple things that everyone took for granted. I spent time with him out on the deck by the pool, going over sentences with him, in a workbook he had been given. He couldn't really read, couldn't recognize words or understand their sequence or grammar. He was like a pre-schooler. He continued to be gregarious and to recognize everyone, although he couldn't put names to people because of the aphasia. He went out, taking the bus because he could no longer drive, but had to have Mary Rose along to pay the fare. It was terrible to see him, who had been a public figure, so humiliated. Fortunately, his many right brain skills were undiminished, among them painting. He began painting every day, going to the office--pictures of the houses of his friends or of wonderful places he had traveled. I gave him a book "The Love of Britain" and he painted from several pictures there. His large circle of friends came and visited him. We were all feeling bereft of our center.
Mother and Dad were especially devastated. Their only son, he had long enjoyed the spotlight within the family. He had once been their “Baby Jesus”; he had gone to all-hallowed Notre Dame; he had become an architect and worked in Dad’s office until Dad's retirement, when Joe set up his own firm, Shaughnessy & Associates, Architects. He had become a councilman, known city-wide. He had run for mayor. They were so proud of his accomplishments. Both of them turned to their faith for consolation. Mother read Newman’s Dream of Gerontius, which allowed her to work through all the stages of the dying soul, as it passed on to the judgment, accompanied by the guardian angel. She would quote passages to me.
SOFTLY and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
I remember having to leave class one day after I returned to Chicago to resume teaching that fall. All I could think of was Joe as we read Emily Dickinson's poem:
Because I could not stop for Death,
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
We passed the school, where children strove
Or rather, he passed us;
We paused before a house that seemed
Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Many things were written about Joe, among them this article.
"Living Is Not for Sissies" by Mary Ellen Lobb from the Westport Community Paper, in August, 1978.
This is a story of hope - and despair, of talent and grit and determination and inspiration and of a whole range of problems involved with plain, simple human survival. This story is about Joseph B. Shaughnessy. Jr. Architect, city councilman (1971-1975), candidate for mayor of Kansas City (1975), tireless worker for the cause of neighborhood conservation and preservation, Westport booster, extraordinaire husband, father, artist, and giant spirit.
The prognosis was poor. Joe had perhaps six months left.
The surgery left him with one side paralyzed and his memory impaired. As soon as possible be began intensive physical therapy and speech therapy. He had to learn about things like a "cup," what it was and how or if he could lift it.
Joe attacked the problem with the same courage with which he had attacked many other problems in the past - problems that found him fighting to exchange the position of underdog for something better. Many Westporters can remember when Joe Shaughnessy, as a city councilman, came to their aid in their troubles with the city government or with other neighborhood problems. Sometimes, they won and sometimes they came out even.
They lost some, too, but they won more than they lost, and Joe was always helping.
Following his surgery Joe underwent massive cobalt treatments until he had completed the maximum number allowed. On September 1 the cobalt series was over. On September 13 the flood roared through the [ the Plaza Spirits liquor store]
[ the Plaza Spirits liquor store]
Pat Shaughnessy was running her architectural salvage business on Westport Road, trying to take care of mountains of business details while, with the aid of family and friends, giving Joe all the encouragement she could muster.
By mid-October Joe was feeling better and set out to help Pat at the store. However, there was not enough of the kind of work he was able to do to satisfy his drive to do something useful. So his son, Michael, a student at the Kansas City Art lnstitute, brought him a set of brushes and oil paints and, as Joe's dad, Joseph Shaughnessy, Sr. put it, "dared him to start painting.”
Only once had Joe taken a course in oil painting, and he had not had time for it in years. He was in the service during the Korean War and returned to
To get a picture of the adverse circumstances under which Joe's artistic endeavor began, one must realize that his vision is impaired. He has voids in his visual spectrum, holes where there is nothing. For example, he does not watch television because he is unable to keep track of the activity on the entire screen. Therefore, when he paints he must move his head to get the complete picture of what he is painting.
In addition to his visual problem, he had to relearn the color spectrum. When he began to paint he would spend much time deciding what color to put in a certain place, but then, after searching his palette for the right color, he would forget what color he was looking for and have to go back to the canvas to find it. He sometimes had to repeat this procedure several times until he finally got the right color.
The first three or four paintings were so primitive (to him) that Joe was too discouraged to continue, and he went back to trying to help run the architectural salvage store.
Friends who heard about his painting brought beautiful books and pictures to encourage him to continue. He also had the inspiration of many pictures of his extensive travel in
By the time the Christmas season came, the Shaughnessy’s had a small party for close friends, and Joe presented some of the guests with exquisite oil paintings of their homes. Pat Shaughnessy says, "These were people that were more than friends. They had done things for us that no one can imagine even a friend doing. I can't possibly tell you all the things they did."
Some people who were good friends had homes with architecture that Joe didn’t like and so he painted other things for them. "He's very explicit," says Pat. "If he thinks your house is ugly, he'll tell you it's ugly and he won’t paint it."
The number of paintings has grown to almost a hundred and continues to grow. When I asked Joe if he had a favorite, he was undecided. Pat's favorite is a large painting of
A friend brought Joe a picture of a small castle in
There are pictures of
When I questioned, Joe about why he had painted such an outlandish combination of Irish wit and Irish melancholy, he chuckled. Even to the most casual observer the drive, the determination, the inner "stuff” of a champion human being is all there in the paintings.
July 16 was a big day for Joe Shaughnessy. It was one year past his surgery and six months past his projected survival of that surgery. He takes the days one at a time.
When I spoke to Joe, I told him that at every evening meal since we heard about his surgery, our family has prayed for the Shaughnessy’s (our children have been classmates). He smiled, put his arm around me and said, "That's the name of the game, isn't it?"
By August 1978, when I visited for summer break he was in bed on the sun porch. He was already skin and bones and could barely talk. There was not much you could do to minister to him. I gave him a manicure. Mike put classical music on the stereo. Mike Greene came by and fed him soup. When I left for Chicago after Dad’s birthday August 21, I said goodbye to Joe in my heart. I knew that I would never see him again.
He died October 29. Mother said he just stopped eating. I drove to Kansas City, and listening to the radio, heard Jeremiah Clark's Trumpet Voluntary. A noble fanfare, it struck me as expressing Joe's life--celebratory, bursting with courage and creativity. There was a meeting to discuss the liturgy, and yes, someone (Roger Freeman?), an amateur trumpeter, could play the Voluntary--at the end. A pine coffin had been brought from Conception Abbey for him; he was dressed in his favorite work shirt and jeans, and Michael put three bricks into the coffin.
Norm Rotert’s Homily
"Almost a year ago, I was over at Pat's shop one day, and Joe was there, and he showed me his paintings that he was beginning to work on, and he asked me if I would be the celebrant of his funeral and preach the homily. . . . How do you capture the spirit of Joe Shaughnessy in words? I finally gave up about half an hour ago and decided that you don't capture the spirit of Joe Shaughnessy in words. . . .And I felt that same tension that I've been experiencing in the group of friends and relatives that came together last night at Joe's house to plan this memorial service this evening. There were those of the group who wanted it to be a very tasteful, well-done, thoughtful service. Then there were those who felt, ‘No, that isn’t Joe Shaughnessy. No, it should be a free celebration, a thing of the people, with much responsiveness from the people who are present. That’s Joe Shaughnessy.’ . . .
“I stopped by Joe’s house yesterday afternoon to be with Pat for a few moments, and with the family. And I was sitting there in the living room, looking around the living room and the house, and thinking, This house is Joe Shaughnessy, with its mixture of old and new, of family and city and neighborhood, with its mixture of the sacred and the secular. If there was one common thing, it was all beautiful. . . .
“Yesterday, when I was thinking, What can I say tonight? My thoughts wandered to a trip to Europe that I took about eight years ago, and how overwhelmed I was with the city of Florence. . . There was so much beauty there. And I thought of a small place called the Academy, that was my favorite. There are only a few pieces of art housed there, but one is David. And that day that I walked around Michelangelo’s David, it was a religious experience for me, the way that artist had so captured the beauty of a human person. And I was thinking yesterday that Joe Shaughnessy was a David. But even more he was like those other pieces of art that were in the building, the unfinished works of Michelangelo, the big blocks of marble. He had a theory that inside a block of marble, a beautiful piece of statuary was just waiting to be released, and his job as the artist was to carve away the excess of material that was hiding the beautiful work of art. You can see that in these unfinished pieces, with those powerful figures still tied into the rock, but trying to pull themselves out of the rock.
“And I was thinking yesterday that those pieces express Joe Shaughnessy for me more than anything else I can think of. I think Joe spent his life continually trying to free himself from all of those things that hold us back and keep us from becoming the beautiful, magnificent beings that God has made us to be. Joe had a short life, compared to what most of us are given; maybe we could say a half a life. But Joe lived that short life my fully than most of live in twice the time.
“So tonight I’m grateful to this city and to the neighborhood that Joe lived in for the part that you all played in helping to free Joe and make him such a beautiful person. He also thanked Mother and Dad for “the beauty that he received from you, physically, and the talents and the gifts that he inherited from you, and that you helped nurture and develop in his early days.”
When he ended with saying that there would be laughter and dancing and possibly some whooping and hollering in heaven now that Joe had “gone home,” the audience applauded and whooped and hollered a bit themselves. It was a fitting send-off. We all agreed that Joe would have approved.
Michael Shaughnessy, Joe's oldest son, is an artist, a sculptor. He received an MFA from the University of Ohio, and is now a professor of art at the University of Southern Maine. His website gives an idea of the work that he does, often using materials like hay. He married Mallory Otteson from Kansas City in 1987, and they have four sons.
After Joe's death, Pat continued with the Olde Theater Salvage store in Westport, eventually moving to the Crossroads area by the station. Michael worked there, along with some friends from the neighborhood. Saving neighborhoods and famous old buildings like Union Station became a passion of Pats, and she entered politics herself and became a Democratic committeewoman. She was successful, and the station remains, with a second life as a science museum. Pat suffered an injury in 1996, falling from a ladder while cleaning the gutter on the house (she had moved from the old house on Madison to a smaller house on the next street to the west). While in the hospital waiting for surgery, she suffered a stroke and died tragically young.
Mary Rose Shaughnessy was very close to her mom and had bought a small house near her. After Pat died, Mary was sort of adrift and she died in 1999. She was a beautiful soul.
David went to college in Kansas City, then became a photographer, setting up in a building near the Olde Theater at first. . He married Laura Sandy of Kansas City, and they have three children. His Shaughnessy Photo business is located in Westport, the neighborhood he lives in, several houses from the house where he grew up. Joe and Pat would be proud of him (and of Michael, of course).