Graceland Mourns the Loss of JR Shaw

Carol and JR Shaw

JR Shaw, Executive Chair of Shaw Communications Inc. and a member of the Graceland class of 1956, passed away peacefully on March 23 at the age of 85. Shaw was a visionary and business leader who contributed significantly to the communications, business and social landscape of Canada. He also greatly contributed to Graceland, and his generosity enhanced the Lamoni, Iowa, campus as well as the experience of students, employees and community members.

Shaw Center on Graceland’s Lamoni campus was named for JR’s parents, Francis and Lottie Shaw.

When the original building first opened its doors in 1982, it helped shape the physical and social landscape and the future of Graceland University. Over the years, the building has been a testament to the generosity of JR, his wife, Carol, and the Shaw family, welcoming guests to events, students to classes and workshops, and faculty and staff to a splendid workplace. JR and the Shaw family’s vision has transformed how the people of southern Iowa and northern Missouri experience the arts.

JR and Carol also made the 2012 expansion of Shaw Center possible. They once again transformed and redefined Graceland’s future as a strong liberal arts institution poised to offer all of our students opportunities for experiences of a lifetime in music and theatre performance. With their remarkable $16 million gift, the largest in Graceland history, JR and Carol set in motion ripples of excellence that will be felt far into the future, positioning Graceland as a leader among distinguished fine arts universities. (Read more about the history of Shaw Center.)

Shaw Center at Graceland University at Night

The renovated building includes a black box theatre named for JR, and a beautiful gallery running along the north-facing corridor that showcases highlights from JR’s collection of modern and contemporary Canadian paintings. In December 2010, JR established a formal university art collection when he donated “The Canadian Heritage Collection,” a group of over 50 serigraph reproductions of Impressionist paintings by Canada’s Group of Seven. The works are currently on display in the Shaw Gallery, and in public offices and meeting spaces around the Lamoni campus.

During the expansion of Shaw Center in 2012, JR began searching Canadian galleries for pieces that would complement “The Canadian Heritage Collection.” He focused on purchasing works that are large and colorful, and offer a wide range of imagery and styles. He also concentrated on selecting works by talented, successful and internationally known artists that challenge us to see the world from new perspectives.

“JR not only supported Graceland financially, he and Carol invested themselves in the university’s future.” – Graceland President Patricia Draves

JR provided many years of service and support to Graceland. He served on Graceland’s Board of Trustees from 1980-86. He was one of the first four people recognized with the Graceland Award of Recognition in 1987 for his support of Graceland as president of The Shaw Family Foundation. He served as the chairman for the Commitment ’81 committee that oversaw a four-year fundraising campaign announced in January 1977 that began with a $5 million target to raise money to construct a campus chapel and a performing arts auditorium. In 1993, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Graceland, and, more recently, JR and Carol, alongside their four children, shared openly with a Graceland audience about the strengths and challenges of running a family business at the 23rd Entrepreneurial Roundtable in April 2014.

JR spent his early childhood on a small farm in Ontario with few modern amenities. His parents raised a young man, by example, who early on learned about work ethic, confidence and vision. He built the Shaw empire piece by piece – with family – and became one of the most influential men in Canada. He and his wife, Carol, graciously chose Graceland as one of the many institutions of higher education they supported, and JR delighted in hearing personal stories of students who had the opportunity to perform in facilities with the quality of Shaw Center. When he visited campus, he sought out students who really learned what they were capable of when given state-of-the-art resources.

Graceland President Patricia Draves commented, “JR not only supported Graceland financially, he and Carol invested themselves in the university’s future.” Draves added that JR enjoyed working with architects on Shaw projects and insisted that if it has the Shaw name on it, it needs to be quality workmanship. He will remain a role model of one who demanded the highest standards of himself and his colleagues, and who used the resources he generated to enhance the lives of others.