Today is October 14, 2016. It is Shannon Zwicker’s birthday. It was Thanksgiving Day the year Shannon was born. I know that I am not alone in being thankful that Shannon was the person she was and did all that she did. Shannon is someone whose full reach and impact can probably never be known; there are people in many places, in many organizations, that have been supported by Shannon’s work but who don’t know that she was responsible for it.
Shannon was a fundraiser, a donor, a visionary, a person who believed that great things could happen. She was an inspiration to many and was behind the financial beginnings and the sustainability of several of the charities featured in my 40 Days of Giving.
I was lucky enough to cross paths with Shannon several times, all, not surprisingly, at fundraisers. Much of the public, especially people who worked with her professionally, will remember her fundraising legacy most prominently when they think of her.
Personally, I think of her first as a mother, because that is how I first came to know of her.
Shannon’s sister, Heather, was one of my favourite professors in my undergraduate years. I took a class on literary theory taught by Heather; it was amazing how often Heather could fit loving anecdotes about her nieces and her sister into lectures on Althusser, structuralism, Derrida, postcolonialism… She even borrowed Lego from her nieces, noting her sister’s generosity in the loan, to illustrate something (sorry Heather, I remember the Lego and nothing whatsoever of what you did with it.) I recall her saying she demonstrated her idea to her nieces (who must have been toddlers at the time) and having laughed about it with her sister.
Shannon’s way through life, her philosophy of “love is the answer” and her positivity in the face of what would make many people crumble, was amazing. Her philanthropy, her fundraising, and her personality all made me like her from the moment I met her. (I met Shannon through my partner, not through Heather, but immediately knew they were connected. I said to Jen, my partner, "If she looks like a Zwicker and she walks like a Zwicker and she talks like a Zwicker, she must be a Zwicker. Is she related to Heather?”)
Her mothering is what I have heard much so much about, a couple of decades ago and recently, and is what I admire most, what inspires me, and from all I have heard, what motivated her. Her children meant the world to her, as did she to them.
Today, I am featuring the Tiger Family Fund. The Tiger Family Fund existed before Shannon died. She and her husband Josh set up the Tiger Family fund in 2009 to engage their children in philanthropy. As a family, they selected a cause to support each year. The Tiger Family Fund is a legacy for Shannon’s children and for our society, as the ongoing selection of causes and contributions continue.
As I mentioned, today is Shannon’s birthday. I admit that I rigged this particular date (in consultation with her sister) because of the somber coincidence that this is her first birthday since dying and it falls in the period of a fundraiser I’m running, motivated in part by Shannon. Her belief in giving back, in doing what she could, in just jumping in and trying something, and infusing her mothering with passing on all that love for the world to her children encouraged me to just go ahead and try this when the idea struck. It seemed apropos that the Tiger Family Fund being one of my selections, I should feature it on Shannon’s birthday.
I want to mark her birthday both to honour her memory and legacy and to celebrate her. I hope donations enable a small part of the mothering she did to continue, to help her children have the funds to continue the philanthropic ideals she was helping them develop, to ensure the living memory of Shannon, their mom.
On that note, I have been given permission to share something else of Shannon’s legacy of mothering. It’s something less serious than all I’ve written to this point. Shannon wrote a poem for her children that one of her daughters shared at the celebration of Shannon’s life. I think her whimsy, playfulness, and fun need to be remembered today too; those attributes are inseparable from the fundraising mom who always said, “love is the answer.”
Please read her delightful, silly poem and join me in donating to the Tiger FamilyFund. And this evening, please raise a glass to the incredible person Shannon was and to the legacy of love and caring that lives on in her children, her parents, her sister, her husband, and her sister-in-law as well as the countless lives she touched. My thanks to her family for allowing me to share this poem with you and for their kind words offered with their consent to feature the Tiger Family Fund today.
Twenty-Five Cats Named Sam
By Shannon Zwicker
Did you know Andy Warhol had twenty-five cats?
Well, it’s true – or at least it’s been said.
We can’t ask him to count them or verify facts,
For, alas, Andy Warhol is dead!
But when he was alive (and had so many cats)
An amazing young artist was Andy.
His print-makings, paintings, shows, drawings and films,
Made him famous, which no doubt was dandy!
His art was so strange, it created a stir.
It was weird; it was fresh; it was new!
And just as his fame and his fortune increased,
So his feline collection, it grew.
Do you think having twenty-five kitties is odd?
Well, I’m telling you truly, I am,
That the craziest, zaniest, makes-no-sense part
Is he named every one of them Sam!
Sam was the Persian with sea-foam blue eyes,
And Sam was a loud Siamese,
Sam the orange tabby and Sam the Maine Coon
Sam the Blue Purebred Burmese.
White cats and tortoiseshells, long hair or short,
If they meowed, they were Sam, one and all.
When their dinnertime came, it was simple enough:
Just “Sam!” was all Andy need call.
I do wish that Warhol were still here today.
I’d grab fifteen minutes of fame,
To have a Last Supper with him and his cats
And give every pet a new name.
One I’d call Campbell, another one Soup,
There’d be Pop Art and one Light Fantastic,
A black one named Velvet and one Underground,
One Inkblot, one Exploding Plastic.
Eight Elvises, yes! And four Marilyn Munroes,
Silver Cloud and a Platinum Wig,
Tainted Tuna (a tabby, I really do think)
And a calico Fiesta Pig
How many is that now? I think twenty-four.
I have but one name to assign.
What shall we call that one? I have an idea!
Don’t you think the name Sam would be fine?
TO SHANNON! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!