• A Career of Service for United Way's Harry Shaw

5/1/2010

Harold Shaw, BA '67 -- After 22 years as president of United Way of the Mid-South, Harry Shaw is retiring and passing control over to senior vice president and COO Bryce Haugsdahl.

Harry Shaw never did work for an airline.

The president of United Way of the Mid-South retired in April having begun his tenure with the organization in 1969 when a friend suggested he apply for a job with United Fund, as it was then called.
 
"I'm thinking it had something to do with United Airlines," he said. "So I take the interview and I come home that day and tell my wife 'I never saw any airplanes on anybody's desk' and I don't know quite what this job is, but it did sound fascinating."
 
In his 22 years as president of United Way of the Mid-South, Shaw has seen donations rise from $11 million upon his arrival to just over $25 million now, partly by becoming more aggressive with grant writing. The needs of neighbors cut through politics, finance and celebrity, and Shaw, with his staff of 52, is reaching one-third of the population in eight counties within three states.


"Harry Shaw has done God's work -- striving to improve all segments of the community," said congressman Steve Cohen. "He has been an untiring leader. His compassion and drive will be difficult to replace. The Mid-South certainly has a stronger sense of community and is better off because of his efforts."


"He has made United Way something that it never was before and I think it's his insistence on excellence and doing the best," said Susan Sanford, president and CEO of Memphis Food Bank. "He took United Way to a level that is just laudatory."
 
One of his greatest accomplishments is the cooperation with partner organizations, such as the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, United Housing, the Grizzlies Foundation and Youth Villages to help those relatively smaller agencies help reach more people, to spread the generosity further and further.


"Harry started Operation Feed campaign for us all those years ago," said Sanford. "After Katrina, when he knew that so many people were coming up from New Orleans into the Food Bank service area, he made sure that we got more money to buy more food for them. He had no responsibility to do that."


Shaw, 65, grew up in Boston, the youngest of five children. His mother passed away when he was 12 and his father, who drove a truck for Boston Ice Co., and the remaining family at home moved in with his older sister and her family.

He has seen life from both sides of need.

"I used to wear cardboard in my shoes half the year because we couldn't afford to get shoes, but I never thought anything of that; I always thought there were poorer people out there than we were," he said. "I grew up in a family that had a lot of love, and we were wealthy in so many ways, but money wasn't one of the ways."


While at Suffolk University in Boston, he fell in with Alpha Phi Omega fraternity where he learned the altruistic benefits of philanthropy.

"We used to put shaving kits together and put little gift bags together, and we would go visit veterans who were in the veterans hospital on Easter Sunday that had been shut in there since World War II -- this was back in '69 -- and some were from the Korean War in the '50s," he said. "Some of them didn't have families and when we would go in there and give the bags out and perform for them, we got more out of it than they did. We were just a bunch of college kids."


After graduating from college he was drafted into military service and signed up for the Coast Guard before working for the Getty Oil Co. in Connecticut. After taking work at what turned out to be a charitable organization and not an airline, he became the division director of the mercantile division for United Way.

"I really enjoyed it, and what I found out is that in order to be able to generate the dollars, you really have to understand what the dollar is going to be used for," he said. "I took tours of the agencies to find out exactly what they were doing so I could prepare the message that I was going to be delivering when I spoke to the various companies that I had to work with. It was a real eye-opener to me to find out all the great works they did."


He built on the knowledge he gained with his tenure at United Way organizations in Boston, Syracuse, N.Y., and Columbus, Ohio, before bringing it all to Memphis, where he has led the organization since 1988.

"I really do believe that the staff of United Way loves him," said Sanford. "They all know the pain in our community and they continue to look for ways to ease it and that starts at the top with Harry. He doesn't ever look for glory, he looks to do right."

The success of the United Way of the Mid-South, he said, is due to his relatively small, yet experienced staff, many of whom have 20 to 30 years of experience; the CEOs of the local business community who devote volunteer time and their resources to the agency and the mixture in the community of smaller agencies and the collaborative nature of this United Way.


"I noticed, particularly when I first got here, how generous people are, and there have been studies done that have proven that Memphis is one of the more philanthropic cities in the country," he said. "Having worked in this business of United Way, it doesn't surprise me."

In addition to gathering monetary donations for the needy, Shaw sees the function of a modern United Way as gathering and disseminating information quickly so that the root causes of problems, and their possible resolutions, may be had quickly. Programs such as Community Information Management which, in conjunction with the University of Memphis, University of Missouri and other groups locally, provide information that is current and up to date; data that's available to any entity to compare locally and nationally. There are only 10 United Ways in the country currently signed up for this program.


"We have the highest infant mortality rate of any city in the country and there are groups locally that have been working on this from the state, county, city and local nonprofit groups to improve those numbers," he said. "We had a study done at the University of Tennessee medical school here that showed which ZIP codes in Tennessee have the highest incidence. One of the things we were able to do with that information was to contribute $80,000 to one of the health clinics which had the highest incidences, and over a three-year period were able to cut it in half."


Though he will miss the close-knit ties of the United Way and its partner organizations, Shaw looks forward to turning over the reins of his agency to senior vice president and COO, Bryce Haugsdahl, so he can spend more time with his family: wife Linda, sons Brian and Jason and his five grandchildren.

"I have two families -- I have the Shaw family and I have the United Way family and a family cares about each other," he said.
 
He hopes to travel and possibly do some consulting work, but also to never miss any events, such as baseball or plays, that his grandchildren are involved in.


"I'm just going to kick back and see where life takes me."
 
"He cares, he really cares," said Sanford, "and I think that the community will miss his leadership, not only at the United Way, but as a leader in the community."


 

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