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In memory of Thomas A. Shannon, NSBA Executive Director, 1977-1996

Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association from 1977 to 1996, died on April 17, 2019, in Ashburn, Virginia. He was 87.

Over the course of his nearly 20-year tenure leading NSBA, Shannon was credited with bringing stability to the federation of state and territorial school boards associations and developing and refining NSBA member services. He also is remembered as an early advocate for effective board-superintendent school governance.

Prior to his tenure as executive director, Shannon was among a small group of school attorneys who foresaw the growing activism in the federal courts and its impact on the needs of their public-school clients. It was with that vision that NSBA formed the Council of School Attorneys in 1967. Shannon served as COSA's founding chairman.

“Thomas Shannon was dedicated to the betterment of public education and the mission of school boards,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA Executive Director and CEO. “His commitment to collaboration, collegiality, and service are part of his rich legacy.”

Pat Paulson, who worked for NSBA for 37 years and served as Shannon’s executive secretary, noted that he was “an avid writer” who loved composing articles and letters-to-the-editor for various publications. She recalled that he regularly used a “standup writing desk” that he brought to the association’s Virginia offices.

In his retirement, Shannon wrote the seminal history of NSBA, “The National School Boards Association: Reflections on the Development of an American Idea,” and a separate book about the history of the Virginia School Boards Association.

To recognize his many contributions to NSBA, the organization established the Thomas Shannon Award for Excellence in 1997. In addition, the NSBA Board of Directors designated him as “Executive Director Emeritus.”

Shannon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and began his professional career in the Navy after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. Before joining NSBA, Shannon served as the General Counsel of San Diego City Schools and the Chief Deputy Superintendent of the school district.  

Shannon’s wife Barbara Ann, who often wrote for American School Board Journal, died in 2017. He is survived by their four children – Thomas, Paul, Suzanne, and Terrence – eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. 

A Mass of Christian Burial will be said at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Ashburn on Monday, April 29, at 11:00 am, with burial in the National Cemetery at Quantico, Virginia.

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