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Lois Shaver, a teacher who ‘made every student feel smart,’ dies of covid-19

Lois Shaver with her son Bob in 2010. Shaver, a longtime teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools, died April 14 of covid-19. (Family Photo)
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Patty Avent was new to the classroom and a little nervous when she and Lois Shaver teamed up to teach fifth-grade math in Fairfax County in the early 1980s. Years later, Shaver made a point of telling Avent she had run into a student who remembered that time as “the year she was smart.”

“I believe it was Lois who fostered the confidence in every student to recognize their boundless capacity to understand the world in which they live,” Avent said recently. “She made every student feel smart. By sharing that student’s long-ago memory, she made me feel smart, too.”

Shaver, who died at 89 on April 14 after contracting the novel coronavirus, was known for her dedication to her profession.

She began at Fairfax County Public Schools in 1973 as an instructional aide, assigned to a special-education class for students with hearing impairments. Her interactions with the students so impressed other teachers and administrators that they urged her become a fully certified teacher. She did, and a decade later she was named Teacher of the Year at Mantua Elementary School in Fairfax.

“Mom believed that it was important to look at special-education students as children first and to concentrate on their abilities,” said one of Shaver’s daughters, Patty Nicholas. “In one professional paper, she quoted noted educator Dennis the Menace explaining to his friend Joey that ‘the best thing you can do is get very good at being you.’ Lois explained in that paper that education can help make each child ‘good at being you.’ ”

Born in Minneapolis, Rosalie Lois Shaver came to Fairfax in 1959 with her husband, Robert G. Shaver Sr. The couple, who raised five children, divorced in 1979.

It was after the children had grown up and moved out that Lois Shaver began a career in the classroom, perhaps inspired by her father. As a high school history teacher and sports coach in Minneapolis, Fred Curtis was also the first member in his family to go to college and put a high value on education.

Shirley Fried first met Shaver between 1994 and 1995 when Fairfax County schools arranged for the itinerant teachers of those with hearing impairments to share a common workroom at Dunn Loring Administrative Center in Fairfax.

From their encounters working together, Fried maintained a friendship with Shaver and last visited her in January at the Virginian, an assisted-living facility in Fairfax where Shaver spent the last years of her life.

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“She was an extraordinarily kind and supportive friend, and I consider myself fortunate to have known her,” Fried said. “I think that the most important thing to stress in regard to Lois’s role is her kind, understanding concern for all people, and her innate desire to be supportive.”

As was done in her childhood home, Shaver welcomed people into her home for extended stays over the years, such as family members, friends, a high school friend of her son and a new-to-town member of the Fort Myer Memorial Chapel bell choir, of which Shaver was a member. In no time at all, a stranger to Shaver would become a friend.

After her own children grew up, she babysat the children of neighbors, just to lend a hand. Tina Gibson, whose family moved next to the Shavers on Athens Road in 1960, became one of those who saw Shaver as a second mother in her childhood.

“The only time I ever heard her raise her voice to her children was when she thought they weren’t behaving like good people — to each other or to strangers,” Gibson remarked. “As I grew into an adult, Lois became a friend — someone I could always talk to and depend on. I watched her give herself so freely to her children and to others, and I’ve used her as an example of how I should live my life.”

After retiring in 1996, Shaver volunteered at Kings Park Library, Fairfax Hospital Library and Meals on Wheels. She was an avid reader who made frequent visits to the library.

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Over time, her health began to fail. “I was blessed to have the time to spend a week every month with her while she was developing dementia, but still in independent living, spending time with her while she was still herself, and helping improve her quality of life while I still could,” said another daughter, Betsy Howard. “I will always be grateful for that time.”

Nicholas recalled her mother’s devotion to her family, her love of reading and music, and her ability to connect with just about anyone, even those she met on her daily walks.

“She was an extraordinarily engaged and engaging conversationalist who didn’t insist on talking,” Nicholas said. “She would quietly do what she thought was right, and could be relied on to act with integrity and generosity without making it seem like a thing.”

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