Edward J. Shea, 91; former district court judge

As a judge, Mr. Shea took a compassionate and understanding approach.
As a judge, Mr. Shea took a compassionate and understanding approach.

As sports publicity and intramural director at Tufts University and later as presiding justice in Orange District Court, Edward J. Shea offered advice or compassion to everyone who walked through the door of his office or courtroom.

“Ed had a way of putting people at ease,” said Paul Robichaud, a former Orange District Court clerk magistrate. “And he never watched the clock. He would sit an hour or two past 4:30 in the afternoon to give everyone their say.”

Family, friends, and colleagues said Mr. Shea, a man of boundless energy, was always there for them.


“The more I got to know him, the more I admired and liked him,” said Rocky Carzo, a former Tufts football coach and athletic director who worked closely with Mr. Shea on a history of Tufts athletics. “He was warm, genuine, and the most humanistic person you could ever meet.”

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Mr. Shea — who formerly practiced law in Greenfield, where he lived for more than 40 years — died of a progressive neurological illness Sept. 5 in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where he moved a decade ago. He was 91 and also had a summer home in Eastham.

Always loyal to Tufts, his alma mater, Mr. Shea received two distinguished service awards from the university. He was president of the Tufts University Alumni Association from 1972 to 1976 and a longtime member of the Jumbo Club, which established the university’s athletic hall of fame.

Mr. Shea “appreciated everything you did for him,” said Karen Micale, reunion program coordinator at Tufts. “People always asked me how he was doing because he was so well liked.”

He wore colorful bow ties, took daily walks to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenfield, and ate breakfast with friends at Brad’s, a Greenfield diner.


“Those of us who knew him felt blessed,” said Ann Hamilton, president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. “Ed served on numerous town committees and boards and for nonprofit organizations while never seeking the limelight.”

A Greenfield Town Meeting member for 20 years, Mr. Shea was named man of the year in Franklin County in 1974.

David Harrison, a retired Gloucester District Court judge and a former Tufts athlete, called Mr. Shea a mentor who “always gave a lot of thought to everything he did and always had a full plate. And he enjoyed every minute of it.”

A multisport athlete at Turners Falls High School, from which he graduated in 1940, Mr. Shea was diagnosed with polio, which left him with a severe stutter. He also attended Camp Wiyaka in Richmond, N.H., and was its director from 1948 to 1978.

At Tufts, he was president and reunion chairman of the class of 1944. When Mr. Shea set aside his studies and tried to enlist during World War II, he was turned down because of his stutter.


“They made me 4-F; I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Shea recalled in a 1958 profile written by Al Hirshberg, a former sportswriter for the Boston Post and Boston Herald Traveler. Mr. Shea said he left his physical “trying to keep my head up. But when I got home, I cried.”

That evening, Mr. Shea dug out notes he had taken at speech school three years earlier. For months he practiced special pronunciation exercises that gradually improved his speech and boosted his confidence. After working at a paper mill, he returned to Tufts “with a will to make good,” Hirshberg wrote.

“Ed showed me you can be the person you want to be, no matter what the challenge,” said Carzo, the former Tufts football coach and athletic director.

After graduating from Tufts, Mr. Shea was an instructor of government and director of sports relations and intramural athletics at the school from 1945 to 1955.

“Ed was part of a three-
person athletic office staff,” recalled Ed Schluntz, who was a sports star at Tufts, from which he graduated in 1950, and later a football coach and athletic director at Brookline High School. “He seemed to be everywhere at once.”

Mr. Shea moved to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where for four years he taught law courses, was business manager of athletics, and director of sports relations.

His sense of humor was evident at a 1957 football luncheon in Boston after UMass won one game that season, against the University of Vermont.

“At the University of Massachusetts we’re thankful for just three things . . . that two touchdowns Vermont scored against us were nullified by penalties. We’re thankful we didn’t have to play Oklahoma. And we’re thankful the season’s over,” Mr. Shea said then.

He met Kay Shea, with whom he shared a last name, in 1948 when she was a Tufts graduate student, and they married in 1951. She died earlier this year.

“I was always struck by his selflessness,” said their son, Ted of Sudbury. “His family and friends came first, and he was the hardest-working person I ever knew.”

He added that his father encouraged him to give his best effort, regardless of the endeavor, which was “a reflection of the way he drove himself to succeed.”

Mr. Shea received a law degree from Boston College and was appointed a judge in 1974 by Governor Francis W. Sargent. He retired in 1992.

“I never heard him raise his voice,” said Laurie Dornig, the current Orange District Court clerk magistrate. “He was one of the most compassionate and understanding judges I have ever seen, especially at holiday time.”

In addition to his son, Mr. Shea leaves five daughters, Kathleen Kettel of Gales Ferry, Conn., Maureen Foster of Gloucester, Barbara of Forest Hills, N.Y., and Karen and Geraldine, both of Cocoa Beach, Fla.; a sister, Marjorie Kennard of North Andover; and four grandchildren.

A funeral Mass for Mr. Shea and his wife will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday in Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenfield.

Mr. Shea had a special bond with his best friend, Tom Merrigan, a former realtor and Greenfield Recorder reporter. Mr. Shea encouraged him to go to law school, and Merrigan, who died in August, graduated from law school at 55.

“They loved to walk and talk and had a lot in common,” said Merrigan’s son, John, who is register of probate for Franklin County.

Shortly after Mr. Shea’s wife died, Tom Merrigan wrote a message of condolence on the inside cover of a memoir he wrote about growing up in South Deerfield.

Ann Hamilton brought Merrigan’s book to Mr. Shea in Cocoa Beach.

“My dad knew that would be his last goodbye to Ed,” John Merrigan said.

Marvin Pave can be reached at