Naomi Shaw

Naomi Shaw

25 December 1940
Calcutta, India
25 January 2023
Chelmsford, United Kingdom
Words by
Daniel Shaw Son

My mother was a character. From her nonsense songs and the rendition of Yankee Doodle she sang in Hindi, to the encyclopaedic knowledge she had of obscure events and people. She was different. A breath of fresh air. A gem shining in the rough. A wonderful eccentric.

she worked in refuges for Asian women, as she could speak multiple Indian languages

She was a woman of conviction and purpose, with a fierce intelligence and an uncompromising sense of what was right and wrong. She loved my Dad because he has that too. She had a need to make a difference. On top of a career as a special needs teacher, and then a mother, and then a grandmother, she was a protester…actually an activist. A volunteer, she dedicated much of her time helping those in a tight spot, especially people who had suffered violence or abuse. I remember she worked in refuges for Asian women, as she could speak multiple Indian languages and so could help them navigate the system. Sara and I both remember being taken on her meals on wheels rounds when we were very young. She greeted everyone as if they were long lost friends. Unlike Sara, I was always wondering when it was my turn for the food.

In the 1980s when Dad came back from rugby tour, it was her turn to head to Greenham Common and join the women there, protesting for an end to nuclear weapons. And there she was, manning the phones in Leeds in the beginning of what we now know as Jewish Womens Aid. In Darlington for many years she sat on anti racism and religious discrimination panels for the police and Crown Prosecution Service. She was also a school governor for a school near to where she worked in Stockton. Even in Essex, she was on an advisory council for religious education. So passionate for those causes, she derived so much joy making a tangible difference in people’s lives. She was the most enthused and animated at those times.

she delighted in being with you and she wanted to hear everything you had to say

And you all know, she loved her friends. She had an infectious excitement when reuniting with them after a period away. She had this rare quality of being devoid of ego, you were the most important person in the room and she delighted in being with you and she wanted to hear everything you had to say. And she remembered everything too. I know because she would recount the conversation with you to me, as soon as she could.

Sometimes, though, she was more vulnerable. In those anxious moments she reverted to more familiar topics of conversation and stories you had heard before. This was her routine. This was her comfort. In my younger days, these repeated stories irritated me. It annoyed me that I had to sit through another recounting of the same old story. But as I got older, I came to love them and the pleasure she got telling them. As if for the first time. What I would give to hear them again.She had her routines and rituals with her daily routine starting everyday at 5am when she prayed, followed by tea, papers and checking her email. It ended in the evening falling asleep in bed in front of a deafeningly loud TV.

And there was one ritual I grew to love. Whenever we went to a new restaurant, it didn’t matter that she had the same menu that I had. She needed me to order for her before she could relax. For years that would bother me. I had the same menu as she had. Why didn’t she make her own mind up? I didn’t know anything more than she did. But then, I would order for her and she would tell one of her funny tales as she slowly relaxed.

The love of her life

She loved my Dad. The love of her life.Marrying him in 1972 and bearing him two wonderful children! They were married for over fifty years, witnessing each other’s lives and facing the world together,with maybe a little bickering. She loved that he needed to make a difference too. Apparently, he also wrote the best love letters to her. He is a hopeless romantic. I remember sitting horrified as he cried watching West Side Story.

She loved Sara, her little girl, so much. She loved the woman she became, Her accomplishments as a solicitor, a partner in her law practice, a business leader, marrying David and becoming a mother to two wonderful kids. She adored Suzy for her kind soul and Ben for his sharp wit (even when his parents didn’t). She cared for them everyday in their younger years and she has never been far from them for long, until now.

For me, you know I think she was proud but not really that enamoured with my police career, or really any of my exploits on the rugby field. But I think she was really proud of me when I stepped back to look after the kids when Janine’s career flourished. She became a kindred spirit with Zachary, and appreciated Abraham’s craziness (even when his parents didn’t). Abraham wants to say how much he loved her for her wonderful weirdness. She became enamoured with Kitty these last couple of years as she slowly got to know her.

With all of us, she conveyed her love by cooking for us, feeding and helping us with our children and household. She always showed her love by helping and making us comfortable.

adventures all over the world

But I think before I finish I need to say something about her adventures all over the world. From India to London in the Swinging Sixties to touring Europe with her brother Viv in his green Mini, living and working in a kibbutz in Israel . Her experiences came with stories littered with humour and great detail of the characters involved.

Her adventure started when she was born in Calcutta on 25 December 1940….. but Mum said, actually it was 1944. The servants sent to get her passport got it wrong, so her documents were issued for the wrong year!

Mum was very vague about her younger years. But over the last two years she talked with her sister Auntie Shami most days, reminiscing about old times. When Uncle Viv was alive, she spent much of the time recalling not only their childhood but their adventures in that Mini in the 1960s.

She told her stories to her sister, brother, cousins and friends, but I was her son, not her friend, and that was a line that she never crossed. Many times, I heard a story but she would quieten up when she realised I was listening.

But I did come across one story myself. Apparently she was a Beatles fan. I mean a BIG Beatles fan. She never said much about it, but there is a famous photo of someone with a striking resemblance to her, at the height of Beatlemania, being held back by Police outside Buckingham Palace. For years, I walked past a giant blow up of this picture, in the staff canteen, in Buckingham Palace. I always thought, “She really looks like my Mum”. She never admitted it was her, until years later. I asked her “Please Mum, tell me if it is you. You have so many stories to tell, If you don’t tell them, they will be lost forever.” Embarrassed, she finally confessed. She thought she was in love with Paul McCartney, and was waiting to catch a glimpse of him.

On a roll, she then went on to tell me about the time she broke into Lord’s Cricket Ground in 1970 to destroy the pitch with Peter (now Lord) Hain so South Africa couldn’t play there, but then she regained her faculties and silence returned.

I took the liberty of emailing Lord Hain, the other day to see if there was any truth in it. He replied hours later and explained that he remembers my Mum, and was sorry to hear the sad news, but actually they ended up writing graffiti rather than digging up the pitch.

Loved and cherished by all her family

A career in public service. An activist, a protester, a volunteer, a friend, a sister to Aunt Shami and Uncle Viv, an Aunt to Tahir, Seher and Tasneem, a wife to Trevor for over fifty years. A mother to Sara and I and an adoring grandmother to Zachary, Benjamin, Susannah, Abraham and Kitty. Loved and cherished by all her family, her adventure ended in the early hours of 25 January 2023. This time there was no funny story. Just a sad one.

Words by
Elaine Grazin Friend

an outstanding woman

When I was asked to say something about Naomi, I was honoured to agree. Naomi was an outstanding woman and I am proud to have been her friend for almost forty years.

• We met in the 1980’s, in a small group of women who set up Jewish Women’s Aid in Leeds – round a kitchen table, on a shoestring budget, because we knew Jewish women in abusive relationships faced extra barriers to seeking help. Naomi was already working with Sahara Asian Women’s Refuge in Leeds. JWA has grown into a national and influential charity since those early days.

• Last month our JWA CEO, described those founder members as Disruptive Activists. Naomi continued as an activist throughout her life.

• Wherever she saw injustice or prejudice, she would speak out against it, so she was involved in Holocaust Memorial Day wherever in the country she and Trevor were living, and battled to get the local authority in Darlington to build a sukkah in a public space so that Jewish and non-Jewish residents could learn about its significance.

• She was the personification of the Jewish principle of Tikkun Olam.

• Judaism was at her core, and when she lived in Leeds she went to the local synagogue, Etz Chaim, every Shabbat and sat with my mother-in-law Claire and her friends. Later we went together to Women’s prayer services, and then to Masorti in Leeds, and during lockdown, ZoomShabbat services gave her a regular continuing link to the Jewish community.

always compassionate and non-judgemental

• Her love of Jewish learning took her to Day Limmud conferences around the country.

• Naomi continued to volunteer for JWA until recent months, when she was not well enough to do so. She was always one to step up if extra help was needed, always compassionate and non-judgemental.

• Alongside her Jewishness, her greatest commitment was to her family, Trevor, their children Daniel and Sara, their partners and of course her beloved grandchildren. (Not to mention some of the great influencers from her childhood, Auntie Rahma and I think Auntie Lilly).

• She loved my own grandchildren too, and was always knitting for them – baby outfits and favourite characters in the form of toys: including Noddy, Bob the Builder and Postman Pat’s black and white cat!

• Our family’s friendship with Naomi and Trevor has remained close no matter how far apart we were geographically. We have shared our children’s wedding celebrations in North Yorkshire and in France, and we have a very closely intertwined joint history.

• I have had no end of loving messages from our friends and JWA colleagues in Leeds.

• There is no doubt that Naomi was a woman in a million, though she would have been too modest to acknowledge that. She is very much missed – but unforgettable.