Tim Shaw never demanded the spotlight. Often, he stood in the background while mayors, councilmen and commissioners cut the ribbons or took the mic during Sanford’s countless ribbon-cuttings, groundbreakings and big announcements he took part in over the last 40-plus years.

But not enough can be said about Shaw’s contributions to Sanford and Lee County — downtown’s Depot Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park on Horner Boulevard stand out; but the list is long.

Shaw retired as the City of Sanford’s director of general services on Dec. 31. His goal now — aside from traveling and spending more time woodworking — is to watch the city he invested 42 years in continue to grow and prosper without him at the planning table.

“Sanford, as an organization, and its citizens have no idea the items that Tim Shaw handled either on the front line or behind the scenes,” says Karen Kennedy, who has worked alongside Shaw for years as community development manager. “His attention to detail and his prompt action will be missed. He made sure that every event and project was handled for the best possible outcome. The MLK project is a wonderful example of a project he took on from beginning to end.”

Tim Shaw, speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the MLK Memorial Park in Sanford in 2010. Photo courtesy of the City of Sanford.

The city broke ground on the MLK park in 2009, and was completed to include a brick sculpture of the Civil Rights leader the following year. The location was symbolic — the half-acre plot was donated to the city several years after two teens were arrested for burning wooden crosses at the site “as a prank.” But it was also necessary — the unofficial entrance to Downtown Sanford from the south was an overgrown blight.

“The site was in terrible shape,” Shaw says. “This project was a way to make an important corridor in our city look better. To really clean it up. Of course, it also allowed us to properly honor a great man. We were all really proud of this project.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the park on Jan. 12, 2009, Shaw — who was then the city’s public works operations manager — said, “there needed to be more done … something permanent … something more visible” than simply naming a street after Dr. King.

Shaw also played a vital role in the development of Depot Park in the late 1990s (Phase I of the park was completed in 2001). The city and Downtown Sanford Inc. saw the grounds of the old railroad depot as a natural spot to create a space where people could come together and enjoy themselves. Today, Depot Park hosts numerous city-sponsored and private events (from concerts to farmers’ markets) and serves as the centerpiece for downtown.

Shaw was part of the planning team and led efforts to raise money through brick sponsorships.  He says his interest in the project was born from his love of downtown areas growing up — he grew up in Chatham County and fell in love with Siler City’s downtown area as a kid.

Tim Shaw (third from left) helping dedicate the horse-hitching rings at Wicker and Chatham Street in Downtown Sanford. Photo courtesy of Karen Kennedy.

“I remember dime stores and the old bootery,” he recalls. “Maybe I’m just an old soul — and I know you can’t always live in the past — but there’s just something about a downtown area that has life. I like shopping in local stores. I like walking the sidewalks and seeing people in the stores. And I hope we continue to see it happening here.”

Kennedy points to the Maple Avenue Mini-Park in East Sanford as her favorite project with Shaw: “From taking road trips to see park equipment to every component of construction and completing the project to represent the city and my state grant funders,” she says. “I knew every project he and I partnered on would be handled properly and swiftly. It was a park to be proud of for our citizens.

“He always had my back and I knew I could count on him. I miss him already.”

Downtown Sanford Inc. Director Jennifer St. Clair said she could go on and on about how much Shaw helped her or about how much better he made downtown, but what struck her most about his retirement was how he can never be replaced.

“There will only ever be one Tim Shaw,” she says. “And I’m so grateful to have had the chance to learn from him.”

Asked what other projects he was most proud of, Shaw thought hard about the last four decades. He said he really enjoyed the recent horse rings dedication on Chatham and Wicker Streets — a spot where visitors and shoppers tied their horses before heading into local shops. He says the flag displays at intersections on Horner Boulevard during patriotic holidays is something he’s proud to see continue.

And while he didn’t play a part in it, he says Sanford’s mural project is something he hopes will continue to get bigger.

As for what’s next for Shaw, he says his retirement will be a true retirement. He and his wife Ann will travel — they’d love to see the fall colors in Vermont, drive Route 66 and maybe see the redwood forests in California. He’ll also continue to work with wood, creating art and other objects from pallets.

The only thing that’s certain for now is he’s happy to stay in Sanford and watch the fruits of his labor continue to grow.

“It’s very satisfying being a part of a community like this for so long,” he says. “To be here, raise a family here, make great friends here. There have been ups and downs along the way, but it’s been great. I hope others feel good about their careers like I have.

“I’m excited to sit back and see where Sanford is going.”

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