John Shaw wanted to be a pilot. He was already logging hours in the cockpit through the flight club at John Gray High School. Pressed on a backup career path, he told his brother-in-law he’d settle for aeronautical engineer.
He was known to his family, teachers and at the Cadet Corps as shy, friendly, funny and dependable. He had a bright future ahead of him. Mr. Shaw passed away Saturday from an asthma attack on Seven Mile Public Beach. He was 16.
“He wanted to be a pilot and we know he would make it,” said his sister Marsha Eleweanya, who is 24 years older than her little brother and said she always looked to him like a brother and a son. “He said, ‘this is what I want to do, this is what I’m going to do,’” she said. He had hoped to go to Cayman Airways for work experience once he finished at John Gray.
“We don’t want to mourn him, we want to celebrate him,” his sister said. “He was never into dark and gloomy.”
His family said that shortly before his death, according to people they had spoken to who were at Public Beach Saturday, Mr. Shaw had been playing with two small children and went in the water for five minutes.
When he came out, he started to have trouble breathing and several people tried to help him with his asthma, they said. He collapsed on the beach and was then taken by ambulance to the Cayman Islands Hospital where he passed away a short time later.
Ms. Eleweanya, sitting in her Prospect living room this week, told stories of how he would play with his nephews, her three sons ranging in ages from 5 to 14 years old. She showed a picture from last Christmas when she bought him a shaving kit, he was starting to grow a beard. In the photo, he’s sticking his head into a big, red gift bag to see what’s inside.
She showed a video of her brother from a recent family night at her house. He’s standing front and center before a karaoke machine, trying to think of a song he could sing, while his younger nephews and his sister egged him on. After some shy laughs, he begins to sing “Beloved Isle Cayman” – “the only song he could remember was the Cayman Islands national song,” his sister said.
Ivy Shaw, John’s mother, said Tuesday morning, “People think he’s shy, but really he’s quiet.”
“He’s thinking through what he’s doing,” she said.
At school and in the Cadet Corps, Mr. Shaw is remembered as humble, respectful and hardworking. “You could call on him,” said John Gray High School Detachment Commander Barrington Griffiths. “He showed right leadership through and through,” he said, adding that he mentored younger cadets and was always willing to help out. Mr. Shaw had been with the Cadet Corps the morning before his death, volunteering with the cleanup project for Earth Day.
Mr. Griffiths told a recent story about a march from North Side to Frank Sound when one of the cadets lost his contact lenses and could not see. “John held his hand all the way,” staying back to help lead his colleague along the road.
“This guy’s character was impeccable,” Mr. Griffiths said. “He was a model student and a model cadet.”
Mr. Shaw’s brother-in-law, Obinna Eleweanya, as Mr. Shaw’s sister and mother showed a video of him flying a small prop plane in Florida, told a story of Mr. Shaw explaining the physics of how a plane flies. “He sat me down and explained that to me when he was 14,” he said.
His sister told another story of when her brother was a young child. “He found a little chicken and kept it in a box,” she said. He fed the bird and cared for it, “and eventually he let it go.”
“He loved life,” she said.