Advocate, civic leader, philanthropist

Mary Shaw “Shawsie” Branton to join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

As a person often considered to be ahead of her time, the late Mary Shaw “Shawsie” Branton was an impassioned advocate for children’s and women’s health, child welfare and school integration, and the preservation of arts and history.

Branton was the co-founder of the one of the first nursery schools anywhere for children with disabilities, now known as Children’s TLC. In recognition of Branton’s lifetime achievements and contributions, she is one of nine exceptional women from the metropolitan Kansas City area included in the second class of honorees to be recognized in the new Starr Women’s Hall of FameStories of other inductees can be found online.

The new class will be inducted at a luncheon celebration on March 22. The hall was created to honor women who have made Kansas City a better place, said Debby Ballard, co-chair of the hall of fame planning committee, and the nine women in the hall class of 2017 have clearly done so.

“She has touched so many people and organizations that one might say that she has unconsciously written a beautiful philanthropic symphony,” said Anna “Acey” Carol Lampe, Ph.D., in her nomination of Branton.

“As a Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri member and exhausting community volunteer for nearly 70 years, Shawsie’s resume looks like a Who’s Who directory of notable organizations and awards – a living legend who has made a significant and lasting impact on Kansas City,” Lampe wrote.

In a supporting nomination letter, Annie Presley, Kansas City author and political strategist, wrote, “When Shawsie got a bee in her bonnet, there was no stopping her. Shawsie has been known to insist, kindly but firmly, that any problem can be resolved with hard work and practical solutions. She never doubted that the efforts of just one person could positively change the world.”

Branton attended Sunset Hill School for Girls in Kansas City, Missouri. She received an associate of arts degree from Bradford Junior College in Haverhill, Massachusetts and a bachelor of arts degree in social work and psychology from the University of Missouri. She served as a probation officer for the Kansas City Juvenile Court after graduating from college and was the director of the Girl’s Department at the Elliott Park Neighborhood House in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Her greatest and most impactful work, however, was never attached to a paycheck,” Lampe said. “Shawsie Branton has always believed that volunteering is the ‘right thing’ to do. Without question, Shawsie has made a profound and lasting impact on Kansas City.”

Branton’s volunteer work has touched more than 60 organizations and more than 30 boards of directors. In the 1950s, Branton pioneered integration at the nursery school, prior to the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education and before the Kansas City, Missouri school district integrated. In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked with then-Governor Christopher “Kit” Bond on children’s issues including the Parents as Teachers program. In the 1990s, Branton was named the first female chairman of the board of the Greater Kansas City YMCA at the age of 73.

“In her seven decades of service, Shawsie has fought tirelessly and compassionately for her belief that every person, regardless of circumstance, deserves a chance to succeed. In her most unselfish and committed attitude toward voluntarism, Shawsie has always leveraged her leadership to get things done and has always been a force to be reckoned with,” Lampe said.

“Shawsie’s impact can be felt everywhere a need has existed,” said Jeanne Sosland, JLKCMO President (1999-2000) and TLC Board Chair (2005-2006).

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. The hall of fame is a repository for their legacies. By sharing their stories, the hall of fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.

A permanent display honoring Starr Women’s Hall of Fame members is now open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The display currently includes memorabilia and information about the contributions of the inaugural class of inductees. The library is at 800 E. 51st St., Kansas City, Missouri.

The hall of fame is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The hall of fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund, which was established upon her death through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The idea for the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame stemmed from Starr Education Committee members.

The civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues and have signed on in support of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame include: American Association of University Women; American Business Women’s Association; Central Exchange; CBIZ Women’s Advantage; Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri; Greater Kansas City Chamber’s Executive Women’s Leadership Council; Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus; Jackson County Missouri Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri; KC Metro Latinas; Kansas City Athenaeum; Kansas City Young Matrons; National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators; OneKC for Women; SkillBuilders Fund; Soroptimist International of Kansas City; Soroptimist Kansas City Foundation; UMKC; UMKC Women’s Center; UMKC Women’s Council; UMKC Women of Color Leadership Conference; WIN for KC; win|win; Women’s Foundation; Women’s Public Service Network; Zonta International District 7; and Zonta Club of KC II.

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