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WALLY SHAW PASSES AT 95

Obituary: Wally Shaw, Physician, Cinematographer
Long Island physician, film maker, professor, sculptor, repairer of all things mechanical and electric, and family man, Dr. Wallace M. Shaw, born June 21, 1919, in New York City, died January 2, of peripheral vascular disease, at age 95. He was a master of all trades, and a jack of none.

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Professionally he was the founding Director of Anesthesiology of St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, and a Director on the hospital's Board. Despite his credentials he introduced himself, and was known as, Wally Shaw.

A man of many avocations, he began film making at age forty, and became the highest-ranked amateur film maker in the Motion Picture Division of the Photographic Society of America, winning awards from Cannes to Melbourne, from 19 countries, and President of the Society of Amateur Cinematographers and Video Makers. His comic film The Model Anesthesiologist, especially with its anesthesiology in-jokes, was a hit at medical conventions, and a pharmaceutical company wanted to compensate him for his letting them show it. He refused the money, to retain his amateur status. The New York Times described his movie The Listmaker as "a wonderful film with the richness of an O. Henry short story." He encouraged and taught other film makers through the Long Island Movie Makers, which published a recognition stating "His knowledge of the technology of movie making had few peers…His value …was immeasurable."

Although having a science-based career, Dr. Shaw had his artistic side. Wally was a sculptor in clay, stone and wood, including finding a new use for a discarded highway fencepost, which he sculpted into a woman arising from a hand (above). The sculptures are now family heirlooms.

In 2001, Dr. Shaw moved to Philadelphia. By 2003, his image was emblazoned on a mural, Lifelong Learning, by Donald Gensler, at 18th and Callowhill Streets, on the north side of The Watermark (above).

The characteristics which tied together all his activities were a driving interest in helping people, an abiding scientific interest in all things, a talent for design and construction, and a warm self-deprecating sense of humor.

At age 14 he constructed and used a home biology laboratory, with intricate pieces of apparatus he built himself, including an incubator and bullet microscope. He earned his bachelor's degree from Columbia University's Columbia College in 1940, and, at age 23, his medical degree from New York University in 1943. He married Geraldine "Gerry" Sax in 1942, a marriage ended only by her death in 2003.

Following his internship, Wally enlisted, as so many others did, to fight World War II. He was in charge of anesthesia at a thousand-bed American military hospital in England, with responsibility for supervision of anesthesia and personnel of eight operating rooms and supervision of post-operative wards. At age 27 and the war won, he was discharged with the rank of major. He rapidly rose in civilian life. After his advances in operating room safety in an era when many anesthetic gases were flammable, he became the Director of Anesthesia at Mid-Island Hospital, for thirty-six years, where he also served as a Director on the hospital's Board and President of New York Anesthesia Associates, P.C. He also served as an official in local, state and national medical societies. He retired in 1990.

He published eighteen scientific articles and produced six medical motion pictures. For twenty years, he also served as Assistant Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Strong and physically active, at age thirty-five he built an enclosed patio by himself, raising the steel girders by pulley. Years later he wore spiked lumberjack boots to climb trees to take them down when necessary. Up to his death he had an iron grip; he would occasionally tease those men with whom he was friendly with "You can let go now" when of course it was impossible to extricate from the handshake, even if he was in his nineties' and they in their thirties'.

He built or fixed (for free) many things, seemingly everything, for many people. But no fix was more significant than reviving wife Gerry one Saturday morning in 1975 when both were home from work, when her heart and breathing stopped. A pacemaker was implanted and Geraldine Sax Shaw survived another twenty-eight years. He also saved her from anaphylactic shock in 1997, he presumed caused by tainted fish, by giving her a shot of adrenaline from his medical bag.

Dr. Shaw is survived by sons Cary, Richard and James Shaw, daughters-in-law Joan Shaw, Katherine Watkins and Julia Brody, grandchildren Jocelyn, Amy, Benjamin, David and Nina Shaw, and companion Pearl Novick.

He believed that the time to show appreciation towards someone is while they are living. Consistent with that, it was his wish to have no funeral and no memorial service.