A day to remember Bob Shapiro

Posted 2/15/24

There aren’t many who knew him that don’t have a special place in their hearts for Bob Shapiro.

Last week, the Warwick City Council declared Sept. 20 as Robert A. Shapiro Day. All …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

A day to remember Bob Shapiro


There aren’t many who knew him that don’t have a special place in their hearts for Bob Shapiro.

Last week, the Warwick City Council declared Sept. 20 as Robert A. Shapiro Day. All nine council members co-sponsored the bill.

Shapiro started a 50 year career in Warwick schools as a teacher, retiring in 2007 after serving 12 years as superintendent. He served as Toll Gate High School’s first principal, a post he held for 19 years before taking the overall district administrative roll.

Mayor Frank Picozzi chose Sept. 20, Shapiro’s birthday, as the date for the symbolic commemorative day that will appear on the Warwick calendar starting next year. Shapiro, who passed away in 2012, would have been 94 this year. 

Picozzi, who was chair of the Warwick School Committee during part of Shapiro’s tenure as superintendent, said working with Shapiro was a special experience for him.

“I loved the man,” Picozzi said. “He’s a personal hero. He was just a natural leader in the way he treated people and the way he handled problems.”

That sentiment was echoed by current superintendent Lynn Dambruch, who said that she was only able to follow in his footsteps because of his mentorship. 

None knew- or loved- Shapiro more than his wife, Audrey, though. Audrey, who was married to Bob for 55 years, said that his dedication to Warwick Public Schools was such that she joked with him following the Blizzard of ’78 that he got his wish to sleep at Toll Gate granted.

“So many people, after he left teaching, would, when they met him somewhere, would say ‘Mr. Shapiro, you were the best teacher I ever had,’” Audrey said. “He really loved his job. The things that other people would dread going to, he enjoyed going to.”

Put kids first

Former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian put it this way, Bob Shapiro “should be remembered as a school leader that put kids first. He attended every sports event, every concert, every play, everything.  Not just because of his job but because he cared. He delighted in the student's success, comforted in the disappointments, and pushed them to continue on.  He was the ultimate cheerleader and unapologetic about it.”

John Howell, editor and publisher of the Warwick Beacon, said Shapiro’s love for Toll Gate dated to the opening of the high school on the hill.

“He would let us know of every development, making sure we were there to record the first basketball game, the formation of the school’s Academic Decathlon team (Shapiro was a member of the board of the RI Academic Decathlon) or the recognition of a student or teacher,” Howell said. “He was an unabashed advocate of everything Toll Gate who went on to become the promoter for all Warwick Schools. It seems only right that the Toll Gate educational complex was named in his memory and that now his birthday become an occasion to remember what he did for the city.”

Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) president Darlene Netcoh, who was a Toll Gate student during Shapiro’s time as principal there, said that she appreciated getting to learn from him and work with him.

“He was a great principal- he showed his dedication by being at everything,” Netcoh said.

Dambruch views Shapiro as one of her biggest role models and said that throughout the time she’s known him- which goes back to when she was in school, as one of her classmates growing up was Shapiro’s son Steven- what stuck out the most about him was his caring nature.

Shapiro’s dedication and kindness stood out most to Picozzi as well, saying that it didn’t matter to Shapiro whether he was speaking with a custodian or a person with a doctorate.

What sticks out most in Picozzi as a showcase of that kindness was what Shapiro did when Picozzi’s father had a heart attack at Picozzi’s mother’s funeral.

“My father had to be transported to the hospital, and Bob stepped forward,” Picozzi said. “He went to the hospital with my father so the rest of us could finish my mother’s funeral. And he stayed with him for hours until we got back there.”

Dambruch recounted that Shapiro visited her in the hospital as well, taking time out of his daily schedule as superintendent to do so. That, among other things, showed her his commitment to the role and gave her an example to follow as superintendent.

The influence that Shapiro has had on Warwick’s leaders is such that both Picozzi and Dambruch said that they consider his example when making important decisions.

“I try to follow his lead in the way I handle the city,” Picozzi said. “Following how he was as a leader has made me a better leader. I think a lot- what would Bob Shapiro do in this situation?”

Shapiro’s influence is physically present in the offices of Warwick’s leaders as well. Picozzi has a picture of him in his office, which he says he looks at all the time. Dambruch’s office has a picture from him hanging up- a gift that he gave her when he retired. It depicts children playing in front of a one-room schoolhouse.

“He came to my office at Robertson School, and said when I retire, I want you to have this picture of mine,” Dambruch said. “He believed in the people who work for him, he believed in promoting from within and giving people leadership opportunities. He gave me my chance.”

While plans for a commemoration aren’t in place just yet, Picozzi said that he and Dambruch will make sure there’s a special event come September.

There aren’t many days honoring community in Warwick, with Picozzi mentioning Joe Gallucci Day, which honors a former City Council president on Feb. 9, as the only other one coming to mind for him. For Shapiro, though, Picozzi and Dambruch consider the day a fitting tribute.

“He was such a great man,” Dambruch said. “He is so important to all of us, and I am so fortunate to have gotten to know him and work side by side with him.”

And for Audrey, seeing her husband honored in such a way is something that she thinks he’d have loved.

“He deserves every honor that he’s been given,” Audrey said.

Shapiro, recognition, rememberance


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here