‘It’s an immeasurable loss’: Emerson remembers Maureen Shea


Courtesy: EmersonToday

By Frankie Rowley, Content Managing Editor

Remembered as a “force of nature,” Emerson mourns the loss of Maureen Shea, former co-chair of the performing arts department, who worked at the college for 40 years.

“She had this ability to see a truth in things that is unparalleled, that I don’t know anyone else who could see through everything that was going on and just zero in on the truth in such a just clear fashion,” said Courtney OConnor, associate artistic director at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and performing arts professor, in an interview with The Beacon. 

OConnor worked with Shea in many different roles, meeting her first as a “naive graduate student.” While struggling to figure out what play to focus on for her graduate thesis project, she recalled Shea giving her a book of poems to read, knowing the one she would eventually select would lay within. 

According to OConnor, once she finished the book the next day, upon her announcement of selecting a poem, Shea expressed excitement, selecting the exact poem she had picked before she even told her the title. Shocked, OConnor asked her how she knew which she would pick. She replied, “I just knew it. I just knew you,” despite only knowing her for a month.

“She just was incredibly brilliant at reading people and seeing them for who they were in ways they didn’t even see themselves,” she continued. “She did that for me and continued to do that throughout my entire career.”

Of the roles Shea occupied in her life, OConnor emphasized the role Shea played as a mentor, stating that she was the “true definition” of the word. 

“Maureen was the true definition of a mentor,” she said. “In my relationship with her, because it was not just about what play I was directing and what problem I was having, it was about my entire life. She was a friend who I could go to with anything.”

Scott Pinkney, head of design and technology and professor of Lighting Design, also regarded Shea as a close friend. Pinkney and Shea worked together for over 30 years, with their first remembered interaction happening in 1992 when he designed Red Noses for Emerson Stage, and she helped Pinkney design the production.  

Over the years, the pair grew as friends, eventually discovering their paths had almost crossed once before—at a party ten years prior. 

“We were talking, and one thing led to another, and we realized that we’d been at a party on the west side in Manhattan, in like 1982 together before we knew each other,” he remembered. 

Shea hired Pinkney when she was co-chair and even taught him while he was working towards a Master’s in Theater Education at Emerson. As a teacher, Pinkney said she was “innovative,” extending the compliment to her directing, as well. 

“She was generous with the students,” he said. “When she was directing students here at Emerson, she gave up herself in every way possible.” 

As co-chair of the performing arts department, Shea worked alongside Amelia Broome. In an emailed correspondence with The Beacon, Broome described Shea as a “pillar of the Emerson Community, generous and fierce, awe-inspiring.” 

“She was a blessing to have in your corner, willing to go to the mat for what was best for students, colleagues, for our department, and for the school,” Broome said. “She was loved, respected, admired, a little feared but always fair, and she will be sorely missed.” 

Shea’s death comes a year after the passing of Bob Colby, former chair of the performing arts department. Pinkney remembered their combined impact on the performing arts department and community as a whole.

“I think we’re all hurting right now, to be honest with you,” he said. “I still haven’t come to grips with Bob’s death, and now, Maureen…I think what we have to do as people who loved them is carry their legacy forward and make sure that their ethics, innovation, and fierce defense of students—I mean, this is from a faculty standpoint—we have to continue that.” 

Outside of academia, Shea was an avid lover of Shakespeare with Pinkney, who claimed “[Shea] knows Shakespeare better than any human being.” 

“If she knew Shakespeare, after rehearsal, they would go up, drink, and discuss his plays,” Colby joked. 

Shea passed away at the age of 71 due to an undisclosed illness on Sept. 20. She leaves behind her partner, Mirta Tocci, brother, Michael Shea, and sister, Kathleen Bergeron. 

She also leaves a long-lasting legacy at the college, serving as the sole chair of the performing arts department from 1997 to 2007 and moving on to oversee the theater studies program and Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Shea also worked as the director of special projects for the School of the Arts and as a diligent professor. A celebration of her life will be announced by the college at a later date. 

“Her voice has been guiding this department in one way or another for the past 30 years,” said OConnor. “It’s an immeasurable loss.”