Profiled by Andre Gerard, April, 1984
Bruce "Gunner" Shaw is gone. With his death in a car accident March 29, 1984 we've lost more than just a friend. We've lost a legend. We've lost a man who lived hard and who did everything to the fullest. We've lost an all too rare and vital individual who could charm and bully us into giving life its full value. With Bruce there were no half measures. He was a perfectionist. You had to enjoy more. You had to feel more. You had to do more.
Very few runners in the Pacific Northwest haven't been influenced in some way by Gun's life. Many knew him only as the red-bearded, barrel-chested, gravel-voiced runner who would run by in a race, pause, ask a few questions, socialize a bit, and then run on. Weeks later, in another race, the same guy would come up to you again and amaze you by remembering your name and the small personal details you had shared with him. He would chat for a bit and then carry on racing - leaving you feeling slightly bigger for having been remembered and slightly smaller for not yourself remembering so well. There was no matching Gun's interest in people.
For many people, too, Gun was the fellow running down the highway with his two dogs. Rain or shine, mud or frost, Gun would grind out the miles with the two Irish setters, Streussel and Sean, loping happily beside him. He, alone or with friends, would take "the boys" on 20 mile runs, and if "the boys" weren't along, neighbours 10 miles away would call Gun and ask where the dogs were. They didn't know him, but Gun - sweaty, tired and so often dressed in longjohns with shorts and red down vest - together with the setters he loved, was an important part of their lives. Streussel's death, and his replacement by Spook, the bumptious Black lab, was a major event for many.
Anybody who knew Gun knew him as a competitor, a man who would push himself beyond normal limits. He thrived on the toughest courses - the Basil Parker Cross Country, Shawnigan Lake Half Marathon, Seaside Marathon; Birch Bay Marathon. Gun ran over 36 marathons and countless road races and there isn't one of those races that didn't generate another Gunner Shaw story. Just ask Jack Taunton about the numerous times they fought it out, mile after mile; about the number of Canadian championships in which Jack thought he finally had Gun's number, only to have Gun come up on him in the last few miles, push him along, and then instead of striding by, match his pace so that they would cross the line together. He was, indeed, a competitor.
The running stories are legion, but there were many other sides to Gun's legend. Running wasn't even his favourite sport. His first love, and the sport where he earned his nickname, was basketball. He could work all night at the press, go on a 20 mile training run in the morning, and then happily spend the afternoon shooting hoop. It didn't have to be an organized game. One on one with his brother David, or a half court pickup game was enough for Gun. He was always shooting, always gunning.
Above all, Gun was a friend. He was a friend who would stop at nothing to do a favour or a kindness. He would go 20 miles out of his way to help you fix your car, bring you a box of apples, or share a beer and a chat. His life was made up of small acts of thoughtfulness. He was a man who never bragged about his own - considerable - accomplishments but who was always eager to boast about the doings of his family and friends.
Except for his family, nothing was more important to Bruce than friendship. Family and friends came first. Nothing else mattered. Not work. Not running. Not basketball. Not even time mattered where friends were concerned. How many of us have been woken up at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning to hear Gun's loving growl: " 'Mother,' 'Jake,' 'Stud,' 'Tom,' 'Frog'. What the hell you up to?" "What do you think I'm up to Gun? I'm sleeping." It didn't matter to Gun - 3 am or 3 pm, you were a friend and that's all that counted.
He had a gift for friendships and for nicknames. That was part of the legend. He renamed, rebaptized, so many people: Alfred the Rat, Mother Marshall, Say Hey McKay, the Wimp, Stud Palfrey. The nicknames, no matter how bizarre, were always well chosen. Alex Marshall, "Mother" to all of us now, likes to tell a story about getting on a bus with the Esquimalt Oldies basketball team. He'd never met any of the team, but he'd heard Gun talk about them, and as they all crowded onto the bus he knew he was able to identify over half of them from nicknames alone. The nicknames were always apt, always kindly in intent and they always stuck. I'll be "Frog" until my dying day, and proud to be so. Thanks Gun, you loving, lovable bastard.
His friendship was never a narrow selfish thing. Gun was a man with a sense of service, a sense of community. He was a man who worked hard and who took pride in the accomplishments of others. Talk to the men at Victoria Press where he worked. They'll tell how hard he worked, what a great mate he was, and they'll joke about his three or four lockers of smelly running gear.
They'll also tell you how seriously he took his union responsibilities and of how tirelessly he would work for the United Way campaign. Ask his fellow runners and his friends how he was always ready to befriend and encourage a novice runner. Ask Mother Marshall or Robin Pearson how Gun was joint founder of Victoria's biggest running club, the Prairie Inn Hash House Harriers. With his rough exterior and his big heart he was a focal point for so many friends, for so many community activities. It wasn't always easy for him, but it was part of his legend that he never complained.
If friends and community were important to Gun, his family was even more so. He was a proud man and a large part of his pride rested in his father, his brother David ("Sherman" to Gun because of his stomach), his twin sisters Lynne and Josie, and their husbands, and his nephews and nieces. Naturally, he was proudest of his wife, Catherine, and of four-year-old Natalie. It was a measure of his pride and his love that Gun was one of those rare men who delights in going out on his own to buy his wife or daughter a dress. When Natalie turns six, she'll be able to wear a dress her father bought her.
The wonderful thing about Gun was that he loved his family, not as an extension of himself, but as individuals. He took pride in Catherine's French and in her Swiss background. His favourite trophy was one he'd won in Switzerland; on his truck - the truck he always kept so meticulously clean - he'd stuck a big CH decal, CH for Canton Helvetican. He took pleasure in these things because it gave Catherine pleasure. Watching her grow up, and seeing her happiness in his hugs, meant everything to him.
Simple events were always celebrations with Gun. Going for a run. Reading the paper. Eating lasagna. Drinking tea with honey. Cleaning his truck. Dumping garbage. Resoling his running shoes. Going shopping. Playing basketball. Going for a beer. He touched everything with his vitality, his gift for loving. New Year's this year was typical. It was a small gathering of close friends. Gun, as usual, was late. It didn't matter. When he arrived, he had hug and a kiss for everyone and he swept us all along with his ebullience. Champagne and hot tubs were part of Gunner's style, and he kept us going strong until two in the morning. At that point someone, most probably Gun himself, realized that we might be keeping the neighbours up. No problem. Gun had the solution: ask the neighbours over. Dressed only in Fruit of the Looms, Gun wandered off into the night to invite them. They must have wondered about the half-pissed, half-naked stranger, but after half an hour of chatting Gun had made two more friends.
Gun would have enjoyed the run a few of his many friends took with his dogs at Beaver Lake the day of his memorial service. He would have loved the simple service in St. Paul's, the small Esquimalt church where he and Catherine were married just over nine years ago. With its history, its memorials to ships and sailors lost, its English solidity and peace, it was a fitting place to say good-bye to Gun. It was fitting, too, that the church was decorated in daffodils, as it had been for his wedding.
There were so many things Gun would have liked about the service. He would have been pleased and touched at the sight of the more than 400 friends who turned up - so many friends that some 200 had to stand outside the church. He would have been pleased by, and he would have laughed at, the bouquet at the back of the church. A lavish, elaborate arrangement of Birds of Paradise, it was centred by chrysanthemums shaped into a large gun. A last good-bye to Gun from the Esquimalt Youngsters baseball team, it was the least they could do for a guy they'd once acquired from the Oldies in trade for a baseball bat.
Gun would have enjoyed, too, the sight of the choir with their blue collars and white gowns; though knowing him, he would have laughed and, with good natured irreverence, have wondered why they weren't wearing Prairie Inn T-shirts. Yes, Gun would have enjoyed all of it. Most of all he would have loved and taken pride in the dignified way his nephew Danny delivered a short, emotional eulogy. And Gun being Gun, after the service he would have been the first to join some 50 or so friends who raised a glass in his memory at the Tudor Arms.
In the church, someone wondered why there were so many firemen present. The reason was typical of Gun. Number One Firehall is next to the press, and Gun on his lunchtime runs started coaching a fireman friend who was training for his first marathon. It wasn't long before two, three, four and more firemen would go running regularly with Bruce. It never bothered him that his own training suffered in running a pace two or three minutes a mile slower than normal. He was helping people, helping friends, and to him that was more important than winning races.
Winning races was important though. His basement is full of trophies and memorabilia - bowling trophies, golf trophies, basketball trophies, and, of course, running trophies. Among the trophies is a huge trophy for finishing first in the 1978 Schlitz Seattle Marathon. Mother Marshall can tell too how Gun fought off heat, cramps, and diarrhea to win that one. How he finished that run with exhaustion etched on his face, pride in his face, and shit streaming down the inside of his leg. It wasn't easy being a legend.
Another trophy from the same year is a third place finish in the Schlitz Light National Marathon Championships. Gun went down to Tampa, Florida, for that one and in usual Gun fashion gave it everything he had. He beat some of the world's best runners that day, runners who, if races are won strictly on ability, should have thrashed Gun. They didn't. Heart counts for a lot in running and Gun always had more than his share of that. He went out, nailed down a pace, and held it the way only he could. He was always a fighter.
So many memories. With Gun's death, all of us have lost a big part of ourselves. Though the loss is greater for some than for others, for all it is an irreplaceable one. There's no replacing Gun's strength, his courage, his pride. There's no replacing his vitality, his sense of fun, his deep laugh. There's no replacing his interest in people, his incredible thoughtfulness, his kindness. There's no substitute for his love.
There's no replacing any of that. All we can do is cherish the legend. All we can do is value and honour the legacy Gun left us. We can enjoy our work, our ball games, or running, and our lives in the knowledge that Gun changed us, that we live more intensely because of him. He'll be with us on our runs. We can share our memories and laugh over Gunner stories. We can try to emulate his kindness and his thoughtfulness to other runners, to people who need help. We can support Catherine, Natalie and the family with our friendship and our love.
When Catherine told Natalie about Gunner's death, she told Nat that Daddy had gone to be with Streussel. Natalie took the news calmly, thought about it for a while, and then, with the devastating charm and logic of a four-year-old, said, "I guess that means I've only got you for hugs now, Mom." What answer can you make to a statement like that? All we can do is cry a little and try to give Catherine and Natalie a few of the hugs that Gun gave us.
For those wanting to make financial contributions to Gun's memory, two memorial funds have been started. The Prairie Inn Harriers have established the Gunner Shaw Memorial Fund with the intent of establishing an athletic scholarship in Gun's name at UVic. Some of the funds will be used to buy a memorial trophy. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so by sending a cheque or money order to Gunner Shaw Memorial Fund, Bank of Nova Scotia. The Esquimalt Oldies, Gunner's slo-pitch team, have established a trust fund for Gunner's four-year-old daughter Natalie. Contributions for her should go to Northwest Trust.
Gun may have died, but the memories he left us won't. Legends never die. Good-bye Gun old friend, and God bless you.
Fast forward to 1997, Alex Marshall and Bob Reid, two of Gun's closest running and training pals, have directed a cross country race in Gunner's honour at Thetis Lake Park, his favourite training area. In the thirteen years of race entry fees and donations, the Harriers have raised in excess of $20,000, half of which provides an athletic bursary in Gunner's name and the other $10,000 provides a computer science scholarship in John Thipthorpe's name, a running friend also killed in a car accident two years after Gunner's death. The Gunner Shaw Cross Country Classic 10K race is one of the most popular events of the fall and proceeds from the race continue to support charitable and community projects managed by the Prairie Inn Harriers, the very club that Gun founded in 1978.