Valerie Shaw, former president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, served on the board for 17 years, under three mayors through five election cycles. She also spent five years as the head of the South L.A. Initiatives, developing an economic and strategic development plan for the region.
Before joining the Zócalo/California Wellness Foundation panel discussion, “Is South L.A. an Urban Success Story?” she talked about the majesty of trees, how she’d like to meet Barbra Streisand, and her love for Zorba the Greek.
In your time with the Board of Public Works you oversaw city infrastructure, from sanitation to street lighting and more. When you walk down the street, what do you see that most people wouldn’t?
I see the beauty of the trees. Our trees are magnificent. I just marvel at their majesty. There are few things that are permanent in city life. The trees are here long after we’re gone.
There’s a Crenshaw area park named for your father, Leslie Shaw, the first African-American postmaster in Los Angeles. What single word would you say best describes him?
Dignified. I also have a phrase: he could walk with kings and queens and still have a common touch.
We can’t talk about your dad without mentioning your mom, Ann Shaw, a celebrated community activist and the first African-American to head the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles. What’s the best word to describe her?
A perennial teacher.
What’s in your front yard, if you have a front yard?
Grass. It isn’t modern. Grass and flowers and a nice tree.
Where would we find you at 9 o’clock on a typical Friday night?
Either with friends or family at home alone. I’m not a partier.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I would like to be able to organize. Just go into a situation and organize everything and leave. You might not think of that as a super power, but it is. Most people are not organized. Institutions are not organized. Houses are not organized.
What’s the last great thing you read?
The last thing by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.
What’s your guilty TV watching pleasure?
What person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
What profession would you like to practice in your next life?
If you could only take one more journey, where would you go?
Greece. I saw Zorba the Greek when I was 13 and I fell in love with him and I fell in love with the story. It’s about resilience, and the fact that, when it’s over, it’s over.