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Memories of Thomas R. Shepherd

These memories of Tom Shepherd from Consortium and Washington and Lee students and alumni, colleagues, and friends express admiration for Tom’s character and gratitude for his contributions to many individuals and society. 

Tom Shepherd and his wife, Nancy.
  1. I will never forget Tom’s smile and laugh, kind words, and, above all, the incredible impact he and Nancy have had and continue to have on the lives of thousands of students, including myself. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Tom as both a student and while on staff with the Shepherd Program. When Matt and I saw Tom last summer, we both walked away feeling truly touched, as always, by Tom’s sincerity and warmth. Despite the number of years it had been since we last saw him, it felt as if no time had passed at all.

               (Melissa Medeiros, W&L, Class of 2009)

  1. I was so sorry to hear of Tom Shepherd’s passing.  He made possible some of my most rewarding experiences, as you know, by starting the Shepherd Poverty Program with his wife.  I also remember Fran’s [Elrod] visit up to Boston when I did my internship there.  It was an honor for the other Boston interns and me to be included in her visit to the Shepherds’ home for a day. My thoughts are with the W&L and Shepherd communities, as I know Mr. Shepherd’s generosity and vision affected many. He will certainly be missed.

               (Emily Darling, W&L, Class of 2011)

  1. I was very deeply saddened to hear about the passing of the program’s namesake, spirit, and embodiment of its ideals, Mr. Tom Shepherd. His passion and commitment to social justice and service to others were evident upon meeting him – he was so friendly, kind, and inquisitive. I have been lucky enough to complete two Shepherd summer internships in my time at W&L, through which I was able to meet and spend time with both Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd at the opening and closing conferences. I had recently been in touch with Mr. Shepherd through my position as a work study for SHECP, and our interactions truly demonstrated his continued commitment to growing and nurturing the program he helped bring about. Without the hard work, generosity, and vision of Mr. Shepherd, I would not be the student, person, or citizen that the Shepherd Program has helped me to become. I am so grateful for all that Mr. Shepherd has done for this school and for students across the country.

                (Emma Swabb, W&L, Class of 2016)

  1. I am very shocked to hear of the passing of Tom Shepherd. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the entire SHECP family. I am very thankful to have met Tom Shepherd. He was a remarkable man genuinely interested in the lives of all SHECP interns. I will never forget the meal and time I shared with him at his daughter’s home in Vermont.

               (Anna Townsend, University of Kentucky, Class of 2017)

  1. In the few conversations I had with Tom, I was always impressed with his vigor and his optimism that we can do a lot about the problem of poverty, and how his optimism was anchored in a realism about the size of the problem and the forces arrayed against us. He lived a long and good life, and touched a good many lives for the better. My thoughts are with you. May God’s peace be with you in this troubled time.

               (David Gandolfo, Professor of Philosophy, Furman University)

  1. My summer working in Boston during the inaugural year of the Shepherd Poverty Program was one that forever shapes my vocation. Tom and Nancy generously invited us to stay the night in their beautiful farm house and treated us to dinner. My fellow interns and I were touched by their humility and sincerity. Conversation flowed as the Shepherds showed great interest in who we were as students and what aspirations we had for the future. The Rev. Shepherd invited us to join her and members of her parish in attending a service with Common Cathedral, a ministry of the Episcopal diocese in Boston. That service is a part of my call narrative to the ordained ministry. Standing between the homeless of Boston Common and members of Nancy and Tom’s church, I received communion from the priest. We stood there as equals and as a unified community. It was the final confirmation for me that I was called to be a priest in the Episcopal church. The summer I spent with the Shepherd Poverty Program was one of the most important of my life and I forever will be grateful to the Shepherds for their vision and leadership with Dr. Harlan Beckley. The story of this program is the story of how a seemingly crazy idea and dream can ripple forward and change lives, thereby changing the world.

               (Rev. Mary Demmler, W&L, Class of 1999)

  1. You and Mr. Tom Shepherd opened your arms, welcomed me, and my fellow 2014 SHECP Boston interns into your home – where we shared moments I would never forget. We toured your beautiful property, and I remember vividly Mr. Shepherd turning to me and saying “this isn’t too quiet for you, right?” knowing I’m from New York City. I turned to him and said, “I’m used to a couple of fire trucks passing by, but I will be okay.” We laughed. I also remember sitting at nighttime, all the Boston interns in a circle with you, Nancy, and Mr. Shepherd, where we chatted about our experiences working at our respective organizations, and Tom shared plenty of stories too. Tom will be missed dearly. My condolences to you, Rev. Nancy. Just know that you are in my heart Mrs. Shepherd, and so is Tom.

                    (Andre Ware, 2014, Niagara University, DBEDC Youth Force Intern)

  1. Mr. Shepherd inspired many to live with a focus on compassion, scholarship and service. While interning through the program in Boston, my friends and I had the great pleasure of visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd at their home in Massachusetts and we were so lucky to learn from them and experience their warm hospitality and meaningful conversation for the weekend. He will be greatly missed and forever remembered for his impact through this amazing program. I know his commitment and contribution to the program made it what it is today and that all those who have been touched by the Shepherd program will remember Tom Shepherd as a wonderful and committed leader.

                   (Morgan Hobbs, 2013, Furman University, Intern at Career Collaborative)

  1. I am saddened that we have lost a giant of a man. I am heartened that he will continue to inspire so many. We can best honor his memory by ensuring his bold vision continues to evolve and flourish.

                 (Larry Connolly, W&L, Class of 1979)

  1. I feel incredibly blessed to have known Tom Shepherd for over a decade. When I think about the attributes of a Servant Leader, Tom had them all. He lived a long, full life and leaves a legacy that is strong and growing. Tom didn’t want to write a check and leave it at that, he wanted to create something, to nurture and grow his investment with a desire to impact and transform others. Tom and Nancy’s efforts with The Shepherd Poverty Program helped to transform W&L, our students, faculty, administration and families. That further helped many non-profits across the country and those they serve. Why stop there Tom asked and now we have the nascent SHECP where over 20 Colleges and Universities have embraced poverty studies and meaningful summer internships for their students. I really admired and loved Tom. He was one heck of a smart and caring person; he had a very fun and probing demeanor and his kindness to others was always on display. Combine those attributes with his strong sense of values and integrity and you have a true man for others.

(Duke Cancelmo, W&L, Class of 1980)

  1. Having recently heard Harlan Beckley’s comparison of Dad [Lisa Shepherd Beneche is Tom and Nancy youngest daughter] to Johnny Appleseed I decided to read “Johnny Appleseed The Romance of the Sower” by Eleonor Atkinson to gain a broader understand of Johnny’s life.  Like Dad, Johnny was clearly a visionary, following the vision placed on his heart by God.  He was also self-sacrificial and very generous with his time, belongings, compassion, knowledge, people skills, and spiritual being. There were several times during Johnny’s life after he had completed years of planting and caring for so many people that he could have settled down and enjoyed the fruits of his labor.  However, he knew that his work was not done and that God was calling him to continue his plantings, even when there had been failures.  It reminds me of Dad who could have stopped after the Washington and Lee Shepherd Poverty Program had reached a certain level, but Dad (and Harlan Beckley) knew that the work needed to expand to the next level, reaching even more people.  At the end of Johnny’s life, he died while leaving the home of a long-time friend to plant the next orchard. That was Dad, he was still sowing seeds through Friday night March 18th, the day before his passing.  Unlike Johnny, who never married the woman of his dreams because he knew he needed to follow the vision God had given him to travel and plant orchards, Dad did marry the woman of his dreams! On a more humorous note, Johnny was a vegetarian; I can still hear Dad saying, “I am on a vegan-free diet!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The book mentions often that Johnny was an orchardist, and “an orchardist must know how to wait, for other sowers reap ten times before he gathers his first harvest.” This also made me think of Dad with his visions related to poverty.  While he was able to reap the benefits from the interns’ experiences, and feedback from Harlan Beckley on the work being done at Washington and Lee, poverty is so enormous that many of the improvements couldn’t be seen during his time.  However, Dad was not afraid to be a part of this mission to help others generations from now. I miss him very much as do so many others.

                  (Lisa Shepherd Beneche, daughter of Tom and Nancy Shepherd)

Links to an obituary, a tribute, and SCHEP’s remembrance of Mr. Shepherd may be found here.

Others wishing to offer remembrances of this outstanding man may send them to Claire McCutcheon (


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