Walking into Bob Shaw’s home in suburban Atlanta is like walking into a slice of Republican Party history. On one wall of his study are pictures of Shaw with the Who’s Who of the GOP: Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, James Baker, Gerald Ford, Newt Gingrich, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and the list goes on.
While he humbly acknowledges that he has known and been known by some of the nation’s most powerful people, on another wall hangs a plaque that has perhaps the most special significance to him. Robert J. Shaw is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
You see, instead of Bob Shaw, successful businessman, civic and political leader and the man known as the godfather of the Georgia Republican Party, we might be talking about Bob Shaw, esteemed member of the Jordanaires, the group that backed up Elvis Presley.
Growing up in a music-loving family and while still in college, first at Georgia Tech and later Georgia State, Shaw and his group, Homeland Harmony, traveled the country singing gospel music. “I missed a few classes,” he chuckles.
He recalls piling into a 1948 Packard station wagon with three members in the front seat, two in the back along with equipment, records, a change of clothes and driving all night to their next scheduled performance. Shaw estimates they logged as many as 100,000 miles on the road in a single year.
His music career was interrupted by active duty during the Korean War. After the service, he toured with another gospel group, the Revelaires. Later, when the Jordanaires heard him sing, they invited him to join them. He turned down the opportunity.
By this time, he was married to the love of his life, Elaine, who passed away three years ago, and had a growing family.
“Every time we’d go off on a tour, I’d come back and say, ‘I’m not going to travel anymore. My kids are going to be grown and I’ll never know them.’”
It was a move he never regretted. “My family came first,” Shaw says. That doesn’t mean he abandoned his love of music. He was director of music at First Baptist Church of Chattahoochee for over 60 years and continued to perform on occasion.
Shaw went into the insurance business, and that led to his role in helping turn Georgia into a true two-party state long dominated by Democrats. He said, “When I joined the insurance business, I became aware of what the government was doing to small business. Little by little, I realized that the Republicans believed you give a man an opportunity, you get out of his way and let him go as far as his own abilities without putting roadblocks in his way. The Democrats didn’t feel that way.”
Bob Shaw first joined the Fulton County Republican Party in 1959, became its chairman and then first vice chairman of the state party when Republicans could have held their state convention in a phone booth. Following that, he served as vice chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In that time, Republicans have gone from having a formal organization in only 22 of Georgia’s 159 counties to holding majorities in both houses of the legislature, the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats. Give Bob Shaw much credit for that.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall says, “Bob Shaw is an architect of and icon in the modern day Republican Party and truly the godfather of Georgia Republicans. I clearly would not be where I am without this wise man’s advice, help and love.”
“Bob Shaw was a conservative Republican 50 years ago when there weren’t that many Republicans in Georgia,” adds state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, a member of the Development Authority of Fulton County, which Shaw chairs. “Bob knows that government doesn’t create jobs. The private sector does.”
On his 90th birthday, Republicans held a well-deserved tribute for Shaw in metro Atlanta.
“There were over 250 people in attendance, including a lot of our elected officials” he says. “In the presentation, they talked about the history of what I did to get the Republican Party going and a lot of them sat there their mouths open. They didn’t know all that.”
It is time they learned. Were it not for the hard work and dedication of one Robert J. Shaw, there’s a good chance they might not have been sitting there that evening. The Jordanaires’ loss was the GOP’s gain.