Share Your Remembrance

UW Information School Professor Emeritus Spencer G. Shaw was a nationally and internationally known librarian, storyteller, and educator. His nearly seven-decade career was devoted to library service to children and youth.

We invite you to share your memories with others whose lives Spencer touched.

Remembering Spencer Shaw

My first encounter with Spencer Shaw was in 1976 when I was enrolled in his Children's Literature course. As a master storyteller, he used his voice in the interpretation of children's books, biblical passages, and stories from his repetoire. He chose students to read books aloud at the University Bookstore or tell stories. As a teacher, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved at the bookstore. At the culmination of fall quarter, he invited our class to join him at his condo overlooking Lake Union. He provided the food; all he asked was that we come with a story to tell. It was the highlight of the semester. I also recall one Sunday at U Pres when Spencer (he invited me to call him by his first name) recited Genesis 1 from the pulpit. With his commanding voice, he captivated those attending the service. He contributed greatly to my love of literature and ability to share stories with youth.

Spencer was a true gentleman

I attended the Spencer Shaw tribute October 14 at Kane Hall and learned so many new facts about this delightful man whose memory I cherish. About 25 years ago Spencer was an elder at University Presbyterian Church. In this capacity, he dropped in to visit a class I was assisting with that is a Bible study for adults with developmental disabilities. He stayed for the entire hour, listening to the lesson, joining in the singing and discussion. And he came back again and again, becoming a regular member of the class for almost 20 years. Not as a lead teacher, but a friend and participant, helping as needed. He was totally accepting of the diverse personalities and capabilities of the class members, sympathizing with their troubles, rejoicing in their accomplishments. If he was away on a trip, their first question was "Where's Spencer?" After he moved back East, they prayed for him every week, and were thrilled when he would stop in to say hello on his visits to Seattle. In the beginning, I didn't know he was a world renowned storyteller, so I wasn't intimidated about "performing" in his presence. I only knew he seemed to enjoy listening to the Bible stories and was helpful in guiding the discussion. He made all of us feel comfortable and valued, and that is the mark of a true gentleman.
Marjorie Domenowske

Spencer-a wonderful friend and role model

My first encounter with Spencer occurred years ago when I received a phone call from him asking me to tell a story at his annual Storytelling Festival at the U.W. I was totally in shock, having attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Spencer was an infamous, legendary storyteller whom I hadn’t met personally. He hadn’t even heard me tell. I warned him over the phone that I told stories in somewhat of a “sassy” fashion. He encouraged me and said, “great” and that he looked forward to hearing me. I was so nervous, telling in front of Spencer, he was such a dignified, well spoken speaker and teller. I began telling my Brer rabbit tale and was shocked and delighted hearing Spencer actually laugh and join in with a catchy tune that was part of my story. That was one of my proudest moments that the great Spencer Shaw loved my story. He gave me the biggest hug and approval after my telling. That began a wonderful friendship. After that I was invited on many occasions to tell stories and do workshops at that special yearly event. To be recognized as a good storyteller by Spencer Shaw was a dream come true!
Another memorable incident is that I gave Spencer a print of an African American teller. I was delighted when I visited him and saw all of his wonderful art. I was so proud, he actually had my modest print on the wall with a label below it stating it was from me. That was another exciting and touching moment. Lastly,one of the all time wonderful memories was being asked to share a story with two other tellers at his retirement. Through the years I have shared many delightful times with Spencer which I will forever cherish. I feel so honored that I was blessed with being a friend and having had the opportunity to listen to such a great storyteller and learn from him.
Debra Harris-Branham

Remembering Dr. Shaw's visits to the bookstore

I never had the honor of being a student of Dr. Shaw, but he was a regular customer at University Bookstore where I used to work in the children’s section. He would visit, neatly attired in his cap and overcoat, satchel in hand, and peruse what was new in children’s literature. I also had the privilege of seeing him present storytimes at the store and his way with the children was so gentle and respectful. To know him was to become fond of him; Spencer Shaw was the most charming, gentlest and sweetest man in the library world and a genuine advocate of children and youth services.

I did learn a fascinating fact about Dr. Shaw: We were discussing Caldecott winners, and he mentioned to me that he had served on the committee that awarded the Caldecott Medal to “Where the Wild Things Are.” It is so fitting that the great Dr. Spencer Shaw had a hand in recognizing what has become one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

Beatriz Pascual Wallace, MLIS
Seattle Public Library

One of my most memorable professors

Reading Professor Shaw's obit in The Seattle Times brought myriad memories of the storytelling class I took at the UW. I had to receive special permission from Professor Shaw as I was pre-med and not in the library science department. To this day, I use the skills that I learned in his class. He was one of the greats!

A gentle and wise soul

Spencer helped me through some of the difficulties of study abroad. He spoke fondly of his family, and passionately about the struggles and achievements of African Americans. It was an absolute joy to have him visit in my home in a new South Africa.

Archie Dick, MLS 1981.

Thank You, Spencer

Hearing the news of Spencer's passing brought tears to my eyes, and a smile.

I took Spencer's Storytelling class many years ago and will always remember his gentle, easy teaching style, coupled with expectations that we would all be excellent storytellers. I don't think anyone in his class wanted to disappoint him!

Long after I stopped telling stories as a children's librarian and moved on to library administration, I felt his influence. In fact, I learned many years ago that presenting a budget isn't so very different from doing a preschool storytime. For that, I thank Spencer.

I've lived long enough to know that we are all mortal, but I'm still sad for all the people who will never hear one of Spencer's stories and who didn't get to see him in action.

Rivkah K. Sass, MLS - 1978

One of a Kind

Spencer encouraged a shy young woman to find her voice. Because of his nurturing spirit I became a Children’s Librarian who loved to share stories. Spencer opened his heart and his home to UW library school students. I will always remember student gatherings at his place on Lake Union. And, I will never forget the wonderful, caring, talented person he was for everyone.
~Laurel Steiner

Children's literature and Spencer Shaw

I took the children's literature course as an elective during my Master's program simply in order to experience Prof. Shaw as a teacher. (My planned specialties were medical librarianship, cataloging, and science reference, so the course was well outside of the box.)

The experience of course was marvelous, and little did I know that I would be using that course in my daily work some 30 years later, as I am cataloging material for 2 laboratory schools and a curriculum materials center among other assignments.

I will always treasure the memory of that class and Prof. Shaw's performance in Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait, which I was fortunate to hear on tape.

He will be missed by the profession, the iSchool, and all his former students.

Priscilla Matthews, M.Libr., 1979

Spencer as Mentor

When I first moved to Seattle in the late 70’s, Peter Hiatt engaged me to teach Spencer’s storytelling class. This was the year that Spencer was president of the Children’s Services Division of ALA…a massively time consuming task. So Peter thought to take some pressure from his workload. Spencer literally welcomed me into his office with open arms. He had a small desk moved into his own office from which I could work. And each day when I arrived Spencer leapt from his own desk and raced across the room to give me one big hug! How nurtured I felt. He pulled out all of his own bibliographies and class plans, opened his closet to show me an array of 16 mm films which he suggested I show the class. And of course pointed to his huge book collection lining the wall. The next year Mae Benne needed a sabbatical, so Peter kept me on and I had another wonderful year teaching storytelling and children’s literature among these greats.

Spencer became not only my mentor, but my good friend. For years I was honored to help out with workshops and master classes at his annual storytelling conferences. What a blessing those were for the teachers, librarians, and storytellers of the NW. So many people were instructed at those conferences and much telling continues in our area not only because of Spencer’s courses at the UW but also because of his incessant efforts at outreach to the whole community.

And Spencer was generous in sharing his international friends. He made sure I was connected with Wakako Shimabukuro and Hiroshi Tsukahara in Tokyo. And one day he called to ask if I wouldn’t love to host a visiting New Zealand teller at Bothell Library. This teller had hosted Spencer on his tour of New Zealand and of course he was excited to show his new friend Seattle hospitality. When the day of the performance arrived, I was amazed to see the glass doors of the library part and short Spencer enter steering the arm of a very tall, very pale, and very barefoot lady in a diaphanous lavender gown with sparkles covering her face, hands and feet! Spencer gave no indication that anything was unusual. This was the inimitable New Zealand teller, Elizabeth Miller. The children were rapt, and asked for weeks when the “sparkle lady” was going to come back.
Liz hosted me in NZ for two tours after that and there were several delightful dinners with Spencer and Liz on her visits to Spencer in Seattle over the years. But I do love the memory of the very dignified Spencer and the totally ethereal Liz arm in arm.

Nothing ever phased Spencer. He told me, laughing, how he had been waiting for a bus in the U district, holding the smart woolen cap he liked to wear in his hands while he waited. A man walking by dropped a quarter in his hat! Another person might have found this offensive. But with his quite dignity, Spencer merely found this a humorous anecdote. I am convinced that the way a person frames their personal stories affects who they are….happy souls or miserable. Spencer chose to see the humor in every situation.

Over the years Spencer and I kept in touch with many dinners out together. But I wish I had taken the time to spend even more time in his company. He was always a delight to be with. Such a sense of humor. And always a gentle kindness about him.

When I took part in the 2008 Connecticut Storytelling Festival, Spencer…who was on the board of the Connecticut Storytelling Guild then, volunteered to be my ‘keeper’. He drove from his home in Hartford down to New London and ferried me back and forth between the hotel and the college, carrying my book bags for me, and introducing me at each of my workshops. At the end of the week someone thanked me for “looking after Spencer all weekend”. I had to laugh. It was Spencer who was looking after me. I believe he was 91 at the time. But showing no signs of slowing down.

Since retirement, I have been on the road every fall and spring and missed his Seattle visits in recent years. When I got back from my spring tour I planned to call Spencer and catch up with a nice long phone call. Of course I kept putting it off. And now it is too late. So I am left with just his memory…and a heart full of his voice and his tales.

Margaret Read MacDonald

Thank you, Spencer

One of my great joys in coming to the University of Washington in 1998 was knowing that Spencer Shaw was still involved with the (then) Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I assured Spencer that we remained committed to his life’s passion – children’s and youth services through libraries – and that we wanted him to continue to participate intimately in our programs and efforts. The focal point for that effort would continue to be the Spencer Shaw Lecture Series.

We were all very pleased to have Spencer embrace the emerging Information School. He recognized that it wasn’t an either-or; that we could and should “do it all!” And Spencer helped us to do each year by arranging for outstanding authors and illustrators to share their insights and by engaging a wide community from the University, the region, and beyond.

On a personal level, my wife Carol and I always treasured our time with Spencer. There was a glow about Spencer, and were continually affected by his optimism, enthusiasm, and insights. When we think of Spencer, we think of that special twinkle in his eyes, his ever-present, but slightly crooked smile, and his meticulous personal and professional nature. Spencer personified quality—he was a classy guy.

So, thank you Spencer for your wisdom and your actions. You’ve touched so many, and will be remembered with the warmest of feelings as we seek to carry your work and passions forward.

Mike Eisenberg
Dean Emeritus and Professor

My first call

When I began my new position at the UW Information School, Spencer Shaw was the first phone call I received, welcoming me to the iSchool. Looking back, I was incredibly lucky to have Spencer set the tone of my UW career! I will sincerely miss our phone calls, his annual pilgrimage to campus for his lecture series, and those beautifully written thank you notes penned in that instantly recognizable handwriting of his.

Spencer, it was a privilege to know you.

All the Best,
Michele Norris
Director for Advancement

This is a very sad loss

This is a very sad loss for the iSchool, and for anyone who cares deeply about the role that libraries and librarians play in the lives of youth. The qualities that made Spencer so beloved — his charm, generosity of spirit, wit and humor — were a powerful complement to his passion for inclusiveness and service to all of our youth. These qualities will be deeply missed.

-- Harry Bruce, UW Information School Dean and Professor

Years ago, after I took the

Years ago, after I took the storytelling class, Spencer asked me to tell one of the stories at the end of his Storytelling Workshop. I was terrified I would stumble and disappoint him in front of professional storytellers so it took several days before I decided I *could* do it. When I told him "yes", he was aghast that it took me so long to decide; he was already sure I would do it. His confidence in me made me a better person — and I do think he was proud of me when I finished my story. It's one of the highlights of my life!

-- Judith Nyman-Schaaf

I was honored to be

I was honored to be associated with Spencer through the Washington Library Association. He was a charming and erudite man. He gave generously of his talents to WLA over many years and many Washington library employees benefited from experience and teaching. He will be missed.

-- Gail E. Willis, retired Association Coordinator, WLA

I first met Spencer Shaw when

I first met Spencer Shaw when Head Librarian at Hampton Institute in 1960. The college was sponsoring a book fair and Spencer was suggested as the best person to invite to represent children's literature. He came from Brooklyn and spent the week with us offering story telling workshops, making public presentations and speaking to college classes. Thereafter we met at ALA and after moving to UW he would stop in Hawaii on his way to give talks in Australia; he spent a summer teaching at the University of Hawaii's School of Library and Information Studies.

Spencer Shaw was a gentleman and leader in his field. He will be missed by all that knew him and was touched by his great talent.

-- Miles M. Jackson, Ph.D., Professor and Dean Emeritus, University of Hawaii

Great Loss

In this morning’s Seattle Times, I read of the death of Jack Sydow, who taught directing in the Drama Department when I was a theatre student, and now, the death of Spencer Shaw, who taught storytelling when I was in library school. I was fortunate to have had both of these men as teachers and mentors. They were two very different people, but both understood the importance and power of story in art and in life and had the gift to pass this appreciation on to their students. I loved those years at the UW. Thinking about Mr. Shaw brings back such good memories and wonderful stories, which is, of course, his legacy.

-- Christine Livingston

He was simply one of the MOST

He was simply one of the MOST magnificent people I have ever known. My heart hurts to know the world will no longer be blessed with his presence. His legacy will forever linger in our minds, hearts and every story we read and tell. Spencer you were my friend and I will forever be changed because of our iSchool encounter!

-- Reca Washington


Reca -

Wonderful to have you share your thoughts. You captured it so well.

Thank you,


The passing of Spencer Shaw

The passing of Spencer Shaw is devastating news to me. I knew Spencer Shaw for many years through our association with the University of Wisconsin, and I had renewed that friendship since my arrival at the UW iSchool. I feel very fortunate about that.

Spencer Shaw leaves a wonderful heritage for generations to come with his keen understanding of children, his advocacy for inclusion of all cultures in books for youth, and his magnificent storytelling, which he firmly believed was for people of all ages. We’re fortunate to have Professor Emeritus Shaw’s papers from 1949 - 2001, including radio broadcasts, storytelling programs, and his personal library, in the University of Washington Special Collections. This speaks to a portion of his legacy.

-- UW iSchool Cleary Professor of Children and Youth Services Eliza Dresang