Founder of Lackey Free Clinic dies at 70

felicia.mason@dailypress.com

What began as a small health ministry operating out of a church grew into a faith-based free clinic that has treated thousands of Peninsula-area patients. Dr. James Shaw, the force behind both the York County clinic and its growth died Wednesday at age 70.

Dr. Shaw and his wife founded the Lackey Free Clinic in 1995 as a way to serve the poor.

"Dr. Shaw has been a fierce advocate for the needs of the indigent in this community for well over 20 years," Carol Sale, executive director of the clinic, said Thursday. "Yet he was unswervingly committed to providing health care to people who have been struggling in society, who have lost their dignity and respect."

His approach to health care was "loving and compassionate, in a way that would honor Jesus Christ, the mission of our clinic," Sale said.

Dr. Shaw, a pulmonary specialist, worked at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. In a 1996 Daily Press article, not long after he began offering free health services at Rising Sun Baptist Church in York County, he said, "This is sort of my home-based missionary activity. For me, it's a ministry, my service to the Lord — nothing more and nothing less.''

His colleagues at Riverside remember a passionate physician.

"Jim Shaw was a leader and highly valued member of the medical staff at Riverside Regional Medical Center," Dr. Barry Gross, the chief medical officer for Riverside Health System, said in a statement issued Thursday.

"Dr. Shaw's passion for caring for community members at the Lackey Free Clinic provided a great opportunity for Riverside to assist Dr. Shaw in his vision to care for thousands of people who needed medical care. He will be greatly missed," Gross said.

The free clinic is a part of Project Care, a partnership of free clinics, community health centers, the three local hospital systems, and more than 200 physicians who provide medical, dental and surgical care.

For their work at the clinic, Dr. Shaw and his wife, Cooka, were named the Daily Press Citizens of the Year for 2007. A March 2008 Daily Press article announcing the honor said, "the Lackey Free Clinic will upend your notions about what caring for the uninsured and the poor can look like and feel like. And that can be traced to James and Patricia 'Cooka' Shaw."

While he treated others, Dr. Shaw was also in need of medical care. In 1997 he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. He and his wife were forced to close the clinic for a few months, but patient needs called to them. Instead of permanently closing, they reopened and expanded. A statement from the couple on the lackeyclinic.org website highlights the growth of the free clinic: "It has truly been God's miracle that the clinic has evolved from three volunteers in a church Sunday school room 20 years ago to a full service medical and dental facility today."

The clinic has treated "thousands of people over the course of two decades," Sale said. It grew from the first patient in 1995 to about 1,600 today. Thirty full-time and part-time employees and 400 volunteers provided more than 12,500 patient visits over the fiscal year that ended last month, she said.

The staff and clinic's board members are grieving and mourning the loss of their leader and founder, Sale said.

Despite the loss, she said she is grateful that Dr. Shaw marked several milestones this year, including turning 70 years old. "He and his wife just celebrated their 50th anniversary. I was glad the Lord let him see our 20th, his 70th and 50 years with his wife."

Dr. Shaw is survived by his wife; a son, Dr. Travis Shaw of Richmond; and daughter Ashley Colonel of Duvall, Wash.

Funeral arrangements have not been finalized. A memorial service at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, 3899 John Tyler Highway in Williamsburg, will be held Sunday, Aug. 9 at 3 p.m.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to the Lackey Free Clinic.

Staff writer Heather Bridges contributed to this report. Mason can be reached by phone at 247-4621.

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