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NO REGRETS; When tennis star Pam Shriver met the man of her dreams, it didn't matter that he had cancer -- or that their time together might be tragically short.

Baltimore tennis star Pam Shriver has chartered a small sailboat for Dec. 5. On that day, her husband's birthday and the date of their first wedding anniversary, she and a handful of their closest friends will sail out three miles from the shoreline and scatter his ashes over the waters of the Pacific.

Joe Shapiro died on Sept. 23 at age 52 of complications related to cancer, nine months after he married Pam in a celebrity-filled wedding in Palm Springs, Calif. Pam had known, of course, that her fiance had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, in 1994. The cancer was in remission when the two started to date, but they both realized it was unpredictable.

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"There's always a time in a relationship when you can pull back," she says now. "Three years ago when I realized I was falling for a guy with a complicated medical history, I decided not to exit. Believe me, I made the right decision."

Even though she's a widow at 37, Pam Shriver seems remarkably at peace with that decision. Little more than a month after Joe's death, she's able to talk about their life together and the long weeks of his final illness without tears -- although unexpectedly vivid memories cause her to stop, take a breath and visibly gather herself together before going on.

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"I've come a long way," she says in an interview taking place in her Towson office. "Even a week ago I couldn't have sat here talking about it like this.

"The first few days it's like a physical pain," Pam says. She holds her hand to her chest as though the pain is located right there.

Mourning hasn't changed the persona she presents to the world. Her curly brown hair is drawn back from her face -- a small, pretty face with no makeup. But she's never worn much in the way of makeup. She was always slender, so it may not be true that there's even less weight than usual on her 6-foot-1 frame. Her khakis, polo shirt and sneakers are typical business wear for her.

Her mother credits their strong, close family for helping Pam get through the worst of the last few weeks. (She and Pam's father, Sam, live in Lutherville; there's also a younger sister, Eleanor.) Margot Shriver has no regrets that her daughter married a cancer survivor, even though Pam's older sister, Marion Shriver Abell, died two years ago of cancer.

"She knew what she was getting into," says Margot Shriver. "But once you find that special person, you have to grab him. Right now there's a little pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel. She'll get to the full sunlight."

Joe and Pam started their bicoastal romance in 1996. She was working as a TV commentator at tennis tournaments, and Joe traveled with her as much as he could. On the surface, the former pro athlete and the businessman had little in common; but both had been successful in highly competitive careers, had a tremendous ability to relate to people and, perhaps most important, had similar senses of humor.

The two had met five years before they started dating. He was married (he and his first wife divorced about the same time he learned he had cancer), and Pam was still very much involved with her tennis career.

Mutual friends, Liz and Pete Smylie, brought them together again over dinner. It was August 1996, and Pam was in San Diego for a tournament. The two hit it off right away. Until she met Joe, Pam had always looked for someone at eye level. Joe was 5 or 6 inches shorter than she was, but she found his height simply wasn't an issue for her.

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After dinner he took her back to La Costa, the resort where she was staying. They were lingering outside Pam's door talking about what they wanted to do together the next day. He looked at her and said, "Would you mind standing downhill?"

"He was very funny about his height," she says. It was a running joke between them. "I'm 5-8, but my wife says I'm 5-7," he would tell people.

"The last day I was with him in the hospital," Pam adds softly, "I told him he was 5-8."

A career at Disney

Joseph Shapiro was born in New York on Dec. 5, 1946. His father was an attorney and his mother a housewife. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at the top of his class and then from Harvard Law School.

"He was very bright, a little too short for his liking, and very driven," is how his sister Beth describes him. "Pam brought out the absolute best in him, a sense of calm and a huge sense of generosity. There was such a sense of ease between them."

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Shapiro was the first member of his law school class to make partner in a law firm -- at Donovan, Leisure, Newton and Irvine in New York. His specialty was corporate law. He moved to the Walt Disney Co. as general counsel in 1985 and was chief negotiator on the company's theme park and hotel in France.

"It was the deal he was most proud of," says Pam. "He flew to Paris 50 times in 18 months."

In 1994 Joe learned that he had lymphoma and would need a bone marrow transplant. He went to Omaha, Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to be treated by an internationally known expert in the field, Dr. Jim Armitage.

By the time Joe and Pam started dating, he was back on his feet. Although he seemed to be cured, he had left his high-stress job as a vice president at Disney. "As with any cancer patient," Pam says, "You go from checkup to checkup worrying until you hear everything's OK."

Pam knew first-hand what it was like to lose someone you love after a long, agonizing illness. Her sister had died a little over a year before. The two sisters were close (Marion was only two years older), and they had shared a house for seven years before Marion got married.

"Anytime someone is in remission you hope it's for a long time," says Pam. "That's what you hold on to."

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Married life

After their December wedding and a honeymoon in Hawaii, the couple bought a small house in Brentwood, Calif., and settled easily into married life. Pam, now retired from tennis, still traveled extensively, working as a TV commentator.

At the end of June, she flew to England to cover Wimbledon. Joe wasn't with her because he had gone back to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for a routine checkup. He called with the latest test results.

"Everything's fine," he said.

When she returned home after the two weeks at Wimbledon, she found a new white four-door Explorer waiting for her in the driveway, a present from Joe for her birthday on July 4. She spent a week -- "a great week," she says -- before she zipped off to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., and then to Massachusetts in mid-July to attend a United States Tennis Association board meeting.

Pam has no regrets now that she continued to travel. "It's easy to look back and say, 'If only I'd known ...' but I can't do that. Joe loved me working. He knew that if I was home all the time it wouldn't work. It was never an issue. But I did trim every day possible. I didn't dillydally."

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In spite of the recent positive checkup, while she was in New England she started to get the sense from Joe's phone calls that something might be wrong. He told her he was having a "low energy week." He had had low energy days before, but not a whole week.

"I just got a vibe," she says.

She hurried home on July 20. He had two new tumors, and the next week a biopsy showed the cancer had returned.

The couple flew to Nebraska for chemotherapy and biotherapy on July 28, but after a few days they decided to return to California and a hospital closer to home, St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica.

The next few weeks were a nightmare.

"There was nothing Pam didn't do to make sure he got the right treatment," says Jim O'Fallon, a longtime friend whose daughter is Joe's goddaughter. Pam spent most of her time at the hospital, being with Joe and trying to deal with the six or seven different specialists whose care he was under.

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The cancer was no longer the primary concern; its treatment was beginning to damage other organs. His kidneys and liver shut down. His heart was affected. For the last three and a half weeks of his life, her husband was on a respirator.

The fact that he had made a living will made it easier when the time came to stop life support. "That's a lesson I learned," she says now. "Have a living will if you don't want long-term life support. It makes the decision easier for the family."

Memorial service

Toward the end, Pam asked Joe what kind of memorial service she should have. He didn't want a religious service, but she knew his many friends would ask for some sort of memorial. What about an Irish wake? she suggested.

"He liked the idea," says Pam, so on Sept. 29 more than 200 people gathered at the Brentwood Country Club in Brentwood, Calif., to remember Joe Shapiro and celebrate his life. "Joe would have liked it," says Pam's mother, Margot, "except he would have ordered cold cuts, and Pam served a full-blown meal."

Disney CEO Michael Eisner, tennis great Billie Jean King and former tennis star Elise Burgin were among the celebrities who had attended the wedding nine months before and were now here for the wake.

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Some guests flew in from the East Coast that afternoon and then took the Red Eye back that night. There were a few speeches. Eisner told the group how respected and loved Joe had been at Disney. King explained how much it had meant to her that in the last months of his life Joe had taught at her alma mater, California State University, Los Angeles. Then others stood up to reminisce about him.

"Pam found out a lot about him from the stories people told," her mother says.

When Joe was 3, according to his sister Beth, he had gotten in trouble with their mom. "Just who do you think you are?" she had asked rhetorically.

"My name is Joseph Shapiro," he told her, always precise, and recited his address and phone number for good measure.

Pam shared her stories as well.

In 1997, Joe came to Oklahoma to see her play her last singles tournament. She beat two seeded players, both from Canada, before finally losing to fellow American Lisa Raymond. Her career was over.

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"Sweet," he told her. "You retired #1 in Canada."

"It was a funny way of looking at it," she says. "He knew how to lift you up."

"People were there from all aspects of his life," says Beth. "Golf friends, college friends from 35 years ago. ... The outpouring for Pam was extraordinary."

Moving forward

In even the smallest ways, Joe's death has changed Pam.

"My bank card got stuck in the ATM the day before Joe's 'party,' and I was down to my last $20. Usually I'd have a fit, but I found myself thinking, 'Oh well. This is not a big deal.'"

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People around Pam are impressed by how she seems to be handling her grief.

"She's tough," says her friend and fellow tennis pro Elise Burgin. "The sport of tennis teaches you so much about life. It toughens you up. Not that anything prepares you for something like this, but it helps you deal with things. She knows she has to move on. He's always going to be with her, just in a different way."

Pam knows that she's mourning for her sister Marion as well as Joe because she became engaged so soon after her sister's death.

"I spent such a short time grieving," she says, "And then jumped into a happy time."

She wonders if therapy might be a good idea, just having someone talk to about the deaths of two people who were so close to her.

Never the best of sleepers, Pam doubts she slept more than an hour at a time without waking for the first three weeks after Joe's death. Each week, though, she looks back and realizes that it's easier than before, although it hasn't felt like it at the time.

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"Then one day you start to laugh a little more," she says, almost with surprise. "And one morning you wake up and want to get a haircut."

As the days go by, she's taking up parts of her life that got dropped in the last frantic weeks of the summer. In June, Pam had shoulder surgery, and she's returned to physical therapy to rehabilitate it. She's started hitting tennis balls again.

And she's back to playing golf, the sport Joe loved and introduced her to.

She's made no decisions about her future yet. She's keeping the house in California but spending a lot of time in Baltimore. It's getting to be time for the charity event most important to her, the Chevy Chase Bank Tennis Challenge, which benefits children's charities through the Baltimore Community Foundation. She'll also be doing television work for the last pro tournaments of the year. She's keeping busy.

And there's her work on the national board of the U.S. Tennis Association, trying to get tennis "back on people's radar screens."

Soon after Joe's death she attended board meetings, and the first day she couldn't concentrate at all. After that, she found, it got easier and she started to focus. The worst was when the day's events were over.

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"I always called Joe when I was traveling and got back to my room," she says. "I just burst into tears when I couldn't call him."

Donations

Donations in memory of Joe Shapiro can be made to the following:

John Wayne Cancer Institute

Medical Oncology

2001 Santa Monica Blvd.

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Suite 860 W.

Santa Monica, Calif. 90404

Attn.: Ginger Navarrete

California State University, Los Angeles

Athletic Department

5151 State University Drive

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Los Angeles, Calif. 90032-8120

Attn.: Carol Dunn

Tennis challenge

What: Chevy Chase Bank Tennis Challenge

Who: Includes Lindsay Davenport, Anna Kournikova and Brady Anderson.

When: Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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Where: Baltimore Arena

Tickets: $9 to $80. Call 410-481-7328, or visit Ticket- master outlets or the Arena box office.

Benefits: Baltimore Community Foundation


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