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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Human trivia bank embraced computers, '80s songs
By ANDREW MEACHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published August 7, 2007
He might never have moved to Florida.
Rob Shaw liked the house in Wood-Ridge, N.J. It was a place where he and his wife could bring up their two daughters. But at the end of the walkthrough, his Tourette's syndrome kicked in. The sudden tics and utterances took the Realtor by surprise.
"Oh, do you have that strange disease?" she asked.
Rob told the Realtor he would rather die than buy a house from her.
He found a warmer welcome in Spring Hill near his parents.
Shaw and his wife had recently picked out a house. They were set to close on the home soon and planned to celebrate by touring Florida: driving to the Panhandle, then to the Everglades and finally hitting South Beach.
They never got the chance.
Shaw died Thursday at his parents' home in Spring Hill. He was 37. Last year he had heart surgery.
As a student teacher at Jersey City State University, Shaw had briefly managed to get inner-city high school students engaged in Hamlet.
But he passed on a teaching career and found a niche in computers. He had thousands of '80s songs in his iPod. A human trivia bank, Shaw inhaled movies, often lacing his conversation with lines from Tombstone, Die Hard, Porky's or American Pie.
He was a diminutive neatnik at 5-foot-4 who favored khakis and Polo shirts. He took out everyday frustrations with rants that reminded co-workers of George Costanza in Seinfeld. He needled them, too, sometimes hurting feelings, but making up for it later.
"The humor was not to cover his Tourette's," said Robert Lotz, who worked with Shaw at a marketing company. "But the attention was already on him. Instead of people staring at him or feeling sorry for him, he wanted to connect with people."
Shaw liked surprises. He proposed to his wife by hiding a solitaire diamond in a plate of fruit. And when she passed her nursing boards, he gave her a Dalmatian puppy.
"My life was chaotic before I met him," said Elizabeth Shaw, 32. "He brought a safety and peace and the hope that everything would always be okay."
The moving truck with all of their belongings arrives tomorrow.
Survivors: A wife, Elizabeth; daughters Sadie and Penelope; parents, Robert and Audrey Shaw; a sister, Nicole Shaw; and grandfathers Robert Shaw and Nicholas Lisanti. Donations should go to the Tourette Syndrome Association, accessible online at www.tsa-usa.org/; or the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, www.brainbank.mclean.org/.