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‘It almost seemed impossible to disappoint him’

William Stephens Shields Jr.
April 23, 1925 – April 14, 2010


I’d like to thank everyone here for coming to pay our respects to Bill Shields, a wonderful friend, husband, father and grandfather. It’s always sad when someone we care so much about passes, but this was a man that by his own account lived a fantastic and full life. At the end he had prepared himself for the inevitable and in a way he looked forward to moving on and reconnecting with his past. We should all be so lucky to go out on those terms.

My dad was a very accomplished man, but he was really a simple man at heart. He valued friendship and familiarity far above excitement and materialism. (He did always want to get a Harley, though, so maybe he’s riding one right now up in Heaven.) That being said, there are a few simple words that really ring true with Pops:

Kind. I use that word because he was such an exceptionally sweet, gentle man who was genuinely sympathetic to other peoples’ problems. When we’d walk down Fillmore Street, he seemed to know almost everyone; neighbors, business owners — even people without a place to live. This church is filled with those people and I don’t need to tell you all that he really valued each and every relationship he had. There were no casual encounters with Bill; when he was with you he was present in that moment. And he was never afraid to open up and get to know someone, and I know everyone here has felt that warmth and kindness.

Devoted. I can honestly say I don’t know anyone who would give as much unconditional support for anyone, regardless of their situation. I never once felt that he wasn’t 100 percent in my corner no matter what I was doing. It almost seemed impossible to disappoint him because he was so supportive and believed so much in the human spirit. Somehow he just knew that whatever you were doing was the right thing and that it was all part of God’s plan. Devotion and faith, not only with his friends and family but also with God. For Pops, it wasn’t necessarily what you were doing, just as long as you were happy and passionate about it and that your heart was in it. That’s the way he lived his life.

Sentimental. We’re talking about the king of sentimental softies. He got an “A” for effort, but the man literally could not make it through grace without getting choked up. There were times when he started crying before he even started; Mom, I know you can back me up on that. My point being that this man was just overflowing with very deep emotions. When he was a kid, he was bedridden with polio and he had to overcome a lot just to live a life that most people take for granted. Well, one of his favorite movies was Rudy, about a college kid proving everybody wrong and playing football for Notre Dame, and he really connected with that story. We’ve probably watched that movie a dozen times. It was a real tearjerker for him, and I know I’ll never be able to watch that movie without getting teary-eyed myself. I bought the VHS tape for him one Christmas so he could watch it upstairs in the main house (there’s no DVD player there). I had to get it off eBay and when it arrived, it was dubbed in French. It didn’t matter, we watched it anyway and he still cried.

Faithful. His relationship with God and the people of this church, St. Dominic’s, played such an important role in his life. It gave him so much comfort and strength to know that God was in his life and I think that allowed him the freedom and confidence to live the life he led. He would go to church daily when he was able and he would spend countless hours praying with his mother’s rosary in his studio. That faith only grew towards the end of his life and allowed him to look forward to reuniting with his parents and the sister he never knew. (She passed away as a very young child before Bill was born.) Whenever we were in town, we would always try to join him here on Sundays and that was really special to him.

Traditional. He was the definition of a creature of habit. He liked root beer floats for dessert; Heaven forbid he was having lamb and there was no mint jelly; and his favorite meal to eat out was breakfast. I’ll use his love for the local greasy spoon coffee shop to illustrate how traditional he was. He started out going to Lee’s Coffee Shop on California; I don’t know what he liked better: the food or the husband and wife owners who yelled at each other in Chinese across the restaurant. When they moved, it was the Rolling Pin donut shop on the corner of California and Fillmore, where he knew everyone and felt so comfortable. Then it was the Chestnut Cafe at Pine and Fillmore, one of the last strongholds on Fillmore before it became the five-star neighborhood. He loved the slow pace there and the personal interactions. Now it’s the Grove, with laptops mandatory and free Wi-Fi. I think he went in there once, and that was enough. We live in a fast-paced world and Bill would be the first one to admit that he was passed up. But thank God for the Lucky Penny at Geary and Masonic. In his last year or so, he didn’t get out much, but boy would he ever get excited about the morning special there, and that’s exactly what he always ordered. He tried a breakfast place with Jason on Haight Street once; my dad was not one to complain, but he told me he never wanted to go back. Basically if “pigs in a blanket” weren’t on the menu, he didn’t want any part of it.

Humble. My dad was a man who was never too proud to speak openly about the regrets he had in his life. When I was born, he was 49, and I benefited a lot by being his youngest child. He was always a great father to me. But as he got older, he would often tell me he wished he had done things differently. He wished he were a better father to all his kids, a better husband when he was younger, and that he had been more of a family man. Those were the things that were really important to him later in life. So many people these days try to live without ever looking back, but Bill was definitely a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and wasn’t led by his ego. I only knew him as a better man, a loving Father and a devoted husband. But he always strived for more.

We all had a special relationship with Bill and I know that since he’s passed you’ve reflected on time spent together, the cards, the warmth, the heartfelt conversations. I know this because he cherished friendships and enjoyed nurturing them and reminiscing. On behalf of our entire family, we thank you all for being such wonderful friends. You’ve given him a lifetime of fond memories and it means the world to him that you’re here today at his church where he worshipped for over 35 years. Dad, we love you and we’ll never forget you.