Maureen E. Shaw, who for two decades led Santa Rosa-based Catholic Charities and greatly expanded its range of services, died Thursday at a local care facility.
Shaw, the nonprofit’s executive director until she retired in 2008, was 67. She had lived for 13 years with the effects of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
During her years at Catholic Charities, Shaw helped the agency expand services to immigrants, homeless people, seniors and those suffering Alzheimer’s disease.
Family members and a former colleague remembered her as a woman with the skills and passion to make a difference in the community.
“She always had this huge heart and empathy for others,” said her sister, Helen Bundy Medsger of Santa Rosa. When an issue surfaced that mattered to Shaw, “she would be the first in line to take it on.”
When the City Council in 1994 made it illegal for people to sleep in cars on neighborhood streets, Shaw criticized the action as poor public policy “because it fails to protect the human rights of all.”
“Why do men, women and families sleep in cars?” she wrote in an opinion piece published in The Press Democrat. “The answer is simple: Because they have nowhere else to turn.”
Maureen Eugenia Bundy was born Dec. 10, 1949, in San Francisco and raised in San Mateo.
At age 7 she suffered the death of a younger sister, and at age 17 her mother incurred a brain injury that left her incapacitated, so Shaw stepped in to help care for three younger siblings. Those experiences and her parents’ strong beliefs about caring for all people “set a path for her, and I don’t even know if it was a conscious path,” her sister said.
She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Notre Dame, now Notre Dame de Namur University, in Belmont. In 1975 she received a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley.
At age 20 she married James Shaw, whom she had met when they both worked at a neighborhood movie theater.
The couple moved to Guerneville around 1980, and Shaw soon joined Catholic Charities, working to help resettle refugees from Southeast Asia. She went on to become director of its Department of Aging, where she established the Alzheimer’s Respite Center. The center is now known as the Shaw Center for Memory Care.
Shaw became executive director in 1988.
Under her leadership the agency opened the 138-bed Family Support Center, a facility for homeless families on A Street in a former hospital in downtown Santa Rosa. As part of the opening, Shaw turned to local parishes and individuals to help furnish and decorate the units.
Betsy Timm, a retired communications director for the agency, recalled Shaw as a gentle person who loved to laugh but who also proved herself an attentive listener and an able mentor.
“She was very good at letting staff spread their wings,” Timm said.
In 2007, Shaw received the Jewel of a Woman award from the Girl Scouts of Konocti Council. She also was honored by the Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless.
Shaw and her sister, who served as her caregiver, jointly took part in more than 20 research studies covering a vast array of topics related to Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. They also are featured in a video and a book aimed at helping caregivers.