[Note to readers: This earlier version of Mr. Shaw's obituary ran online only.]
Former U.S. Rep. and Fort Lauderdale Mayor E. Clay Shaw Jr., an institution in South Florida politics, has died at age 74.
Mr. Shaw passed away on Tuesday at Holy Cross Hospital surrounded by family, following a recurrence of lung cancer.
Mr. Shaw represented Broward County, and part of Palm Beach County, for 26 years. He lived in Fort Lauderdale, where the 17th Street Causeway bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway bears his name.
Though his cancer had returned recently, and he was hospitalized about a week and a half ago, Mr. Shaw remained engaged in politics.
His former chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, visited him at the hospital last Friday. "We talked Syria, we tal
ked the pending government shutdown. He was into all the latest events,'' said Eikenberg, who started working with the congressman as an intern, went on to run one of his congressional campaigns and became his chief of staff. "He had FOX News on.''
Eikenberg said Mr. Shaw was a "workhorse,'' not a "show horse,'' who accomplished much and whose career was clean from scandal.
"He did it the right way,'' Eikenberg said.
Though he served until January 2007, Mr. Shaw was a product of a previous time in politics, where civility ruled and Republicans and Democrats cooperated to get things done.
He was so well known and so widely regarded as a gentleman from a different era that even Ron Klein, the Democratic challenger who won the 2006 election and retired the congressman from politics, referred to him as “Mr. Shaw.”
Though he became a resident of Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Shaw was born in Miami in 1939 and retained a previous era’s pronunciation of the Magic City, “My-am-uh.”
Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said Mr. Shaw was a friend he worked closely with on Everglades restoration. Like others, he remembered Mr. Shaw as a “gentleman.’’
“Politics doesn’t have to be about elbows and knees and mean spiritedness,’’ Bush said. “Clay Shaw didn’t have a mean bone in his body. .... He and his family are part of South Florida history and he’s just an extraordinary guy.''
He was elected to Congress in 1980 during the conservative, anti-Jimmy Carter wave that helped propel President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Mr. Shaw supported Bush over Reagan for the Republican nomination, siding with the man who ultimately prevailed and became president. A long friendship ensued.
“Some people you just click with,” Mr. Shaw said. When Bush was president, Mr. Shaw and his wife, Emilie, sometimes joined George and Barbara Bush in the private residential quarters at the White House for takeout Chinese food. Other times it was movies. And Emilie Shaw occasionally played tennis at the White House with Barbara Bush.
Hanging on the wall of the Shaws’ home in Fort Lauderdale is a picture Mr. Shaw took of Bush in the White House – showing the president holding a camera that he was using to take a picture of Clay and Emilie Shaw sitting on the bed in the Lincoln bedroom.
Mr. Shaw was a veteran known mostly for constituent service before he became a force on the House Ways and Means Committee and grabbed national attention in 1996 by authoring a welfare bill that reversed 60 years of government policies. The bill, which drew widespread praise but plenty of controversy, imposed more stringent work requirements for many recipients while offering help with child care and job training.
Last month, he reflected on his relationships with his Congressional colleagues.
"We liked each other. I've traveled with [former Democratic House Speaker] Jim Wright. He said nice things about me in his book. I played golf with [longtime former Democratic House Speaker Thomas P.] 'Tip' O'Neill. He and I were buddies. We could have fun together. We could fight in the daytime and have fun at night. We were adults."
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said Mr. Shaw was “likeable, sociable, affable,’’ and the two enjoyed hearkening back to their early relationship, when Hastings the attorney appeared before Shaw the municipal judge.
“Clay was one of my good friends in Congress, and in my considered opinion, we’ve lost a great American and a dynamic congressperson who provided exemplary service to the people of South Florida and this nation,’’ Hastings said.
Mr. Shaw received bachelor's and law degrees from Stetson University and a master's degree in business from the University of Alabama. Mr. Shaw's career started in 1968, when he was an assistant Fort Lauderdale city attorney.
He served as the chief city prosecutor, an associate municipal judge, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and became the city's mayor in 1975.
Jack Seiler, Fort Lauderdale’s current mayor, said he admired "the way he was able to focus on the good in people,'' regardless of political stripe.
"With his passing it reminds us that you can be a principled public servant,'' said Seiler, a Democrat, "but you don’t have to be a partisan public servant.''
Mr. Shaw was elected to the House of Representatives in 1981; he left office after losing his seat to Klein in 2006.
"I just hate to lose," Mr. Shaw said in December 2006. "I'm not used to it."
While in Congress, Mr. Shaw worked with former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and others to promote Everglades restoration for more than 20 years.
He was proud of authoring a law in 1988 that mustered the armed services to help block drug trafficking.
Mr. Shaw was a traditional Main Street conservative whose political career came of age in a less polarized time, when House members across the political spectrum hobnobbed with each other and struck compromises.
He sometimes showed an independent streak.
Mr. Shaw remained optimistic about the nation's future in an interview last month.
"I'm always optimistic about our country. We'll be able to bounce back. … We need to be able to figure out together what do to, and then live to fight another day."
Mr. Shaw is survived by his wife Emilie, four children and more than a dozen grandchildren.
Those who were around him over the years, including Florida CFO Jeff Atwater, observed that his family gave him strength. When other politicians "looked for cameras and headlines'' after political events, "Clay Shaw at the conclusion of each of these events only looked for Emilie's eyes. That's all he needed was to know that she was there, and she'd be at his side, and that she believed in what he was doing.''
Funeral arrangements were pending. He will be buried in Cuba, Alabama, where his parents are buried, Eikenberg said. A local service is in the works.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun