It’s hard to know what Janet Shapiro did best — her interests ranged from political activism to pottery, with so much in between.
But the Minneapolis resident was likely most devoted to her husband of 64 years, noted ophthalmologist Irving Shapiro, their four children and eight grandchildren.
Shapiro, 85, died May 19 after suffering from physical and cognitive problems.
Born July 31, 1933, in Chicago, she met her husband while attending the University of Michigan. The couple moved to Minneapolis in 1956 and became active in Democratic politics.
“She was a really spirited spark plug for our community, very smart, very principled, decent and funny,” said former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Their son, Eben Shapiro, of New York City, recalls “then-Senator Hubert Humphrey in our living room when I was growing up. We licked a lot of envelopes as part of political campaigns. Mom was very involved at a grassroots level, but also on a senior strategic level as she got more involved.”
Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the Shapiros “supported me unflinchingly from the very start of my political career. I would not have become mayor without them.”
The Shapiros proved to be an enduring duo.
“The love between Irv and Janet was so powerful and touching,” said George Latimer, former mayor of St. Paul. He recalled sitting behind the couple while watching election returns years ago: “They held hands for five hours.”
While supportive of her husband’s professional endeavors, “she carved out this very full life for herself that set the tone for the family,” Eben Shapiro said. “They had an incredible partnership, they both had a deep respect for each other and their involvements.”
Shapiro fervently opposed the Vietnam War. Eben Shapiro recalled questioning why they were participating in an antiwar march when he was 9 years old: “I said, ‘What difference does it make if one more person is there?’ She got very upset and gave me quite a lecture on issues of personal responsibility, democracy and community involvement.”
Shapiro was also a research associate at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health for more than two decades. She co-authored many articles published in prestigious medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine.
An arts aficionado, she served on the boards of the Walker Art Center, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Historical Society. She attended every new production of the Guthrie Theater until very late in life.
Shapiro was a gifted potter, known for distinctive glazes. Her pieces “were very painterly with a dramatic use of color,” said her son, Matthew Shapiro, of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Shapiro was known for entertaining and for her signature tabbouleh. “We learned to bartend at an early age, they had lots of parties and fundraisers,” Eben Shapiro said. “It was a very stimulating dinner table.”
Madeline Island in Wisconsin was Shapiro’s special place, and she loved to swim in Lake Superior. Latimer remembers Shapiro “jumping in a very cold lake when I wouldn’t touch the water. I can still see her bobbing up and down in the water like she was 16 years old.”
In addition to her husband and sons Eben and Matthew, Shapiro is survived by a son Hugh, of Reno; daughter, Ann Stern, of Nashville; and sister-in-law, Laurie Reinstein, of Highland Park, Ill.
Services have been held.