Remembering Becky Shives

Those fortunate enough to have known a profoundly good person know how much their lives have been enriched by that goodness. Becky Shives was such a person. Becky’s kindness, generosity, and unconditional love inspired the lives of everyone who knew her. She turned 85 in September, and it is very telling that on her special day she was heading up a hospitality committee at the Garden Club of Harvard, giving to others. Becky radiated joy in life itself and smiled and laughed with her whole being.

"Becky’s Garden"  (Sketch by Suzan Osborn)

Sarah Rebecca Smith was Becky’s given name but her nickname better captured her cheerful, upbeat nature. She had an older brother, Fred, who now lives in Honolulu. She met Lindsay, her husband of 63 years, in Spanish class when they were both students at North Fulton High School. They married after Becky graduated from Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina and Lindsay pursued degrees in architecture. In 1961 they moved to a big, old farmhouse on Still River Road. Becky taught kindergarten and although she stopped working when their daughter Ansley was born, she always loved kids and created a rapport with them, no matter the age. Her grandson Cody shared on social media his gratitude to his grandma for supporting him from beginning to end in his decisions and more importantly through his art. A granddaughter, Shelby, lives in Greensboro.

Although Becky and Lindsay were very close to family, they chose to stay in the North. Becky never lost the trace of a Southern drawl and carried with her that famous Southern hospitality. A friend recalled that when a new family moved into the neighborhood, the Yankees hunkered down in their houses and it was always Becky who ventured out to extend a warm welcome. Another friend remembers visiting on a summer afternoon. Becky always had iced tea with mint from her garden served with “a little something” that she just “happened to have” (homemade cookies come to mind). Becky also brought with her a fierce loyalty to her roots. She was proud to say that when Sherman marched on Atlanta, her grandmother hid the silverware in the hem of her dress.

In the early ’60s the pastor at the Congregational Church organized an outreach group called Ladies of Harvard. The group went to the Lancaster Industrial School for Girls to help with projects and act as role models for the troubled young women. That’s where Nancy Gasser of Prospect Hill Road first met Becky and began a friendship of more than 50 years. Nancy said Becky was an inspiration to her at that first meeting in the way she interacted with the girls—a glimpse of what would be Becky’s lifetime role of caring and outreach. She was a loyal friend, said Nancy, “more of a lady than I, but she was also great fun. We would often pile into the car and drive to Mount Monadnock—same route, no map.” To Nancy and others, Becky was that thoughtful friend who gives small gifts from the garden or a poem from a book, perfect for that one person. She was “pure gold,” said Nancy. Another friend recalled what a sports fan Becky was—especially of the Patriots—and how knowledgeable she was. “She read the sports page!”

Becky continued her caring outreach through volunteering for Harvard Help and Meals on Wheels, bringing support to those who needed it. Her faith was of profound importance to her, and for 56 years she was an active and much-loved member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Clinton, where, a friend said, “she enriched the congregation and community by her quiet and thoughtful ministry to anyone in need.” Becky was the first one to extend compassion, bring a casserole, visit a shut-in, or arrange support. A natural peacemaker, she had no biases and never said an unkind word to anyone. Becky’s goodness was pure—she gave without fanfare, brushed off thanks, and met compliments with self-deprecating humor.

Known as the Lord and Lady of Still River, Becky and Lindsay had a very special relationship. The love that started in that high school Spanish class seems to have remained undimmed over 63 years. Even their teasing banter was loving. They were endlessly kind and supportive of one another and furthered each other’s interests, his in architecture, hers in gardening. Becky worked as business manager for Lindsey Shives Associates. She adored animals, and she and Lindsay always had a big old collie. They were both thrilled when Ansley was born and proud of her all along the way. Later they embraced their son-in-law, Sean Hadas, who wrote on social media that Becky was “a woman of unending grace, beautiful inside and out, who left footprints on the heart.”

Twenty-two years ago, Becky and Lindsay moved from the sprawling farmhouse near the road to a smaller, light-filled house that Lindsay had designed farther down on the property. Lindsay wrote in an email: “Becky was a gardener in the complete sense of that word, and the home she created inside and outside was like living in a garden.” Walking through Becky’s wonderful garden with her was a treat. She had brought some plants down from the old house, and different friends—she could name each one—had given her perennial divisions or saplings. The garden was full of whimsy, with a frog perched on a boulder, a hedgehog peeking from a shrub, and everywhere were Becky’s rock sculptures. She readily admitted she had “a thing about rocks.” Becky generously gave away cuttings and divisions, and so her spirit lives throughout the gardens of Harvard.

Becky admired the published poet Dorothy Burnham Eaton, who lived on the eastern end of Prospect Hill Road and with whom Becky became friends. Becky loved poetry, especially poems about nature and its creator. Two lines from Eaton reflect the belief by which Becky lived her life: “Faith is the ground we walk on/Love is the staff we bear.”

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