Robert Shapiro, a leader among leaders
To the Editor:
As an “itinerant” music teacher – one who travels between a number of schools – I have worked with many principals at all three levels – elementary, junior high and senior high – in Greenwich, Conn., Coventry and finally Warwick. The respect afforded to my position and its needs as a full-time itinerant music teacher run the gamut. One principal said to me as I was searching for a room in which to hold my classes, “I hope you realize that you are on the bottom of the priority list for teaching space.” The same principal was eager to schedule my students to perform for a PTA meeting, but it was a grave inconvenience to try to schedule an assembly program during the school day to share the students’ educational musical experiences with the student body. (My simplified response was “No assembly, no PTA meeting.”)
And then, at the other end of the spectrum, I had the great fortune to work for and with Bob Shapiro.
Purposely moving into the Toll Gate area so that our three children could profit from what I was reading about the organization of the proposed Toll Gate Complex, at a later date I was also happy to be hired to teach elementary music in the Toll Gate area. One day I was called from my class because I had a phone call from Bob Shapiro, principal at Toll Gate. As I walked to the office, I thought, why is he calling? He doesn’t even know me! Could there be a problem with Lauren at Toll Gate or David at Winman?
This is what he had to say, “Carol, I know of your work with string students. Itzhak Perlman [one of the greatest violinists in the world] will be performing at Temple Beth-El tomorrow night. Brown U has offered free tickets for students. Do you have students who can use them?”
A few years later (I was also teaching at Winman), came another surprise call from Bob Shapiro.
“Carol, you have an orchestra program at Winman, but we have none at Toll Gate. Would you be willing to teach a class at TG?”
I told him that was difficult because I had no free periods except to travel between seven schools.
“Then will you accept TG students into your Winman classes?” (During those years, the two schools shared timing for two periods to allow Winman’s 9th graders to take language classes at Winman.) “Sure.” I’m thinking, “9th graders are proud to walk over to TG for a class. I can’t imagine 10th graders being willing to walk BACK to Winman.” – but they did.
Eventually, with Bob’s unfailing support, encouragement, involvement and leadership, the Toll Gate Orchestra evolved into a full-time position. His door was always open to me, even when he became Superintendent of Warwick Schools. (Fortunately for me, the students and the orchestra, his legacy at TGHS continued with the excellent principals, Julius Breit and John Golden.) When word of Bob Shapiro’s passing spread, I heard from a number of TGHS Orchestra alumni, all saying how much he meant to them when they were students and, especially, to them as members of the orchestra. Every one of them knew that the orchestra’s life support was dependent upon his ever-present nourishment – and always with his beautiful wife, Audrey, by his side.
All of us who had the good fortune to know him will cherish him as a kind, loving, giving, humble person who was a giant among human beings and educators, and whose influence will always be part of all of us.
Retired Toll Gate HS Orchestra Director