Lifetime of teaching, coaching leads Shaw to Council on Aging

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A journey into the highways and byways of the Moncure community will eventually run across a stretch of asphalt decreed as “Johnny Shaw Road.”

Johnny Shaw may not be the end-all, be-all authority on all matters pertaining to Chatham County, but one would be wise to seek his opinion. Chatham County blood courses through his veins. After being reared in Chatham and attending Elon College (now University), Shaw returned home and began a 30-year career as a teacher and administrator in the public school system.

Once he retired in 2003, it was time to seek out a new leadership challenge. With retirement came the opportunity to observe the daily operations of the Chatham County Council on Aging. Shaw’s parents were clients of the Eastern Chatham Senior Center in Pittsboro and took part in the Meals on Wheels program once those center trips were no longer feasible.

As for Shaw, he was drawn to the Council for its exercise programming. A relationship that began with service on the Eastern Center’s Advisory Council gradually progressed, and today, Shaw sits as a critical voice in Council affairs with his role as president of its board of directors.

“My goal has always been ... when I get involved with anything — whether it’s work or just being a volunteer — my goal is always to leave it better than what it was,” Shaw said. “I’m hoping whenever I leave the Council, that people can say that it was better because of Johnny Shaw than it was before.”

Spend any length of time around Shaw and one will find that he doesn’t have much tolerance for hearing a goal can’t be achieved without a good reason behind it. “I can’t,” or “we can’t,” aren’t terms tossed around freely in his presence.

As a former football coach — even dating back to his days as a student assistant track coach at Elon — Shaw has always identified goals to meet and sought out the means to achieve them. While others may march into meetings armed with laptops and other assortments of technology, an old-school notepad and pen are just fine with Shaw for a grueling session.

“To me, the greatest honor you can have is the privilege to lead,” Shaw said. “And I just felt humbled and honored that the others thought that I was capable of doing it — of being a leader. It’s always been, to me, the greatest calling to be a leader.”

Shaw’s educational career in Chatham County started as a 7th-grade teacher. From there, he had a number of assignments, including serving as a dropout prevention coordinator for Pittsboro Elementary, George Moses Horton Middle School and Northwood High School. Among those stints was an assistant principal role at Horton.

While Shaw’s adult life has been spent working with two different clienteles, there’s one constant that helped him navigate students that never age and assists with his service to the population where aging is very much a part of life.

“The biggest thing is I’ve always tried to be Johnny Shaw,” he said. “I don’t try to be something that I’m not. Basically, what you see is what you get. It’s basically being yourself and knowing your strengths, playing off those strengths.”

In his 19 years of association with the Council, Shaw has seen a natural evolution of its services. As time has marched forward, the Council’s services to Chatham’s older adults has adapted along with it.

“It’s sort of been brought into the present in a lot of areas,” Shaw said. “I attribute that to good leadership. We’ve had some good directors, and they’ve had a vision. What you see now is the vision. I’m most proud of the services that the Council on Aging has been able to provide for the senior citizens of Chatham County. I’m talking Meals on Wheels, I’m talking exercise programs, I’m talking the whole gamut.”

As president of the board of directors, Shaw recently oversaw a historic moment that will transform and position the Council for its long-term future. In the final week of June, the wheels were officially set in motion to become a full Chatham County department, with the transition process set to be complete by July 1, 2023.

“It’s an exciting time for the Council on Aging,” Shaw said. “I’m really happy that the county commissioners saw the good work that the Council on Aging was doing and saw fit to bring it in as a county department. It will, in my opinion, make the Council sustainable, the programs sustainable and it will also lead to an expansion of services in the county.”

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