With heavy hearts we announce the passing of Joan Marlene Shaw (Joan Ewalt) on December 26, 2018. She remained in her home in Boston, MA, surrounded by loved ones, until the very end, allowing family to celebrate a peaceful Christmas with her grandchildren at her side. She was blessed with a wonderful and supportive group of friends and well wishers in her final days, only reinforcing her impact across the globe over her mere 68 years.
She came into this world as a dairy farm girl in the mountain town of Enumclaw, Washington, on June 5, 1950, tasked with caring for the baby calves, and balancing her love of school, art, and music. She left her small hometown to become a teacher, always incorporating her creative side into her homemade lesson plans and singalong activities. Generations of students grew up on her hand illustrated Mother Vowel activity books and ukulele singalongs. Later as a young divorcee with two small daughters in tow, she bravely picked up and moved to Japan in the pre-internet era, when all one knew about such exotic places came from the few travel books at the local library. She taught kindergarten and first grade to the children of our troops in Japan and Germany, jumping in the car and traveling with her girls every weekend and school break to ensure they experienced as much travel and culture as possible.
Her first diagnosis with breast cancer came one week after her marriage to her second husband, Charles Shaw, and brought her back to the United States in 1993. After a challenging year of treatment in Washington State, she moved with her family to North Dakota, pursuing her second master’s degree – this time in Speech and Language Pathology. She didn’t let 6.5 feet of river floodwater in her home three years later get her down, graduating and moving forward to a 15+ year career with the Boston Public Schools as a speech pathologist.
In her retirement, she spent her days as a doting grandmother to her granddaughters, Zora and Kip, and grandson, Ian. She explored Boston with her friends and practiced yoga with vigor and dedication. She maintained a beautiful garden with her husband and considered herself blessed with Chuck’s cooking and homemade bread. She was a staunch Pussy Hat wearer and marcher, believer in equal rights and in science. She was a sewer and maker, always gifting new babies and fellow teachers with sock monkeys and her trademark character, Silly Willy. In later years, it was not unusual for some stranger to approach her in a store and identify themselves as an old colleague who met her in their own first year of teaching, mentioning how they still utilized her classroom materials and had learned so much from her and developed such confidence as a result of her mentorship.
She always encouraged her daughters to not sweat the small stuff; “it is what it is” was a constant refrain. She didn’t hold grudges and was able to move on from life’s setbacks with a grace we have always admired and aspired to. She was so proud of her daughters, and through it all, they always felt loved.
Her cancer came back with a vengeance in her last few years, metastasizing and slowly chipping away, but she soldiered on defiantly, some might say stubbornly, refusing to lighten up on yoga, lifting her grandchildren, or doing the things she liked. She transitioned to hospice care in December and passed away listening to Joni Mitchell, in the arms of her husband and daughter, well loved as always.
Joan was preceded in death by her parents, Louise and Edward Ewalt, and her sister, Janet. She is survived by sister Julie, brothers James and Donald, husband Charles, daughters Hillary and Ashley, sons-in-law Bruce and Nathan, grandchildren Zora, Ian, and Kip, stepson Alex (Nicole) and step-grandchildren Conner and Tyler.
Joan’s wishes were to be cremated, and a memorial service open to all will be held on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 2:00pm at the Sons of Italy (30 Birch Street, Roslindale MA 02131).
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