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Univ’s new “American Friends”

James Shannon (1984, MPhil Politics) was a partner in an international engineering and construction firm (Bechtel Group, Inc), a partner in an international law firm (Kirkland & Ellis, LLP) and a partner in an international venture capital fund (SoftBank Emerging Markets). He also founded and grew an environmental paint company, which he sold to a publicly-traded paint company (RPM, Inc.). Mr Shannon is a graduate of Berkeley, Oxford and Harvard Law School.

Ruth Shannon (1985, MSc Computer Science) was a Senior Research Analyst with a management consultancy firm (The MAC Group). Staying home to raise four children, she spent much of her time volunteering in their schools and in her community, helping to raise money to combat homelessness and aid in suicide prevention. She became a certified Master Gardener in 2013 and is continuing to pursue her interests in art and gardening. Originally from South Africa, she completed her BSc at Cape Town University.

They live in Hillsborough, California and Ketchum, Idaho. One of their children, Catherine Shannon (2013, MSt Classical Archaeology), was a graduate student at Univ.Together, Ruth and Catherine are believed to be the first mother-daughter graduate students in Univ’s history.

Jim and Ruth Shannon have taken over the management of the American Friends of University College Oxford (AFUCO) from Paul Chellgren (1966), Honorary Fellow, last year, after he steps down after more than 40 years in the role.

What brought you to Univ?

Ruth: My grandfather and father were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. They both spoke passionately about their time there, and I was always determined to follow their lead for as long as I can remember. I had a friend from Cape Town, Neil Macdonald (1984, MSc Management), who told me that Univ was the best college at Oxford – and he was right!

Jim: I graduated early from Berkeley specifically to come to Univ to study
with some of the best moral and legal philosophers in the world. Univ then had on its faculty HLA Hart (retired), Ronald Dworkin, John Finnis, David Wiggins and John McDowell, to name only a few of its many great philosophers.

Of which professional achievements are you most proud, and why?

Jim and Ruth: We respect each other’s professional work, but we are much prouder of the family we have raised than of any professional achievements. We suppose that’s true of most Univ Old Members in their own lives, too. There’s no worldly glory in day-to-day family life – but it is good-in-itself, as some philosophers would say, and beyond reward.

How are you spending your retirement?

Ruth: We have always been involved with our community, local charities and South African causes. We’ve focused on homelessness, hunger, sustainability and education issues, and that involvement has grown since Jim retired and our kids have left home. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a beautiful place but also one where, scandalously, hunger, homelessness and mental illness have skyrocketed. The pandemic has worsened the crisis. I’m currently working on a project to encourage homeowners in our community to install veggie beds in their backyards dedicated to growing produce for those who are food insecure.

With our children grown, we have also been freed to explore the world. We have hiked extensively in the Western United States, the Dolomites and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Our planned trip to hike Machu Picchu this past April was scuttled by the pandemic, but we will hike to those Incan ruins one day.

Jim: In addition to our charitable work, I have been focused on philosophy, hiking and fly-fishing (not always in that order). I’m writing a book entitled Understanding and Wholeheartedness, the seeds of which were planted during my graduate studies at Oxford and which somehow continued to grow during my varied legal and business career. I have worked on the book as a Visiting Scholar at Berkeley’s Philosophy Department and as the H.L.A. Hart Fellow in Law at Univ in 2017-18. I hope to put my efforts to some use, by teaching a philosophy course at San Quentin State Prison, when its prison university program resumes after the pandemic.

What do you remember about your first week at Univ?

We both vividly remember Ruth’s first week at Univ, when Jim was beginning his second year, because it so happily and totally changed our lives: we met one evening in 0th week outside Univ’s beer cellar – an unlikely place for a life-long romance to begin, and yet it did. We have been together ever since, raising a family and sharing our lives together.

What are your most treasured memories of Univ?

We both treasure our time with the late, great George Cawkwell. George and Ruth’s father, Rex, fought in WWII, came to Oxford together and were good friends. George befriended Jim in his first year, inviting him to his Bentham Society dinners, which always promised glittering conversation with some of Oxford’s best minds. George reached out to Ruth upon her arrival at Univ, inviting her often to tea. And he did the same with our daughter, Catherine, who shared meals (and some whisky) with George and friends in his home. George’s gentle kindness touched three generations of our family.

Why do you support Univ, and why would you encourage others to do the same?

Everything we have done since leaving Univ finds some roots in our experience there. Our relationship started there. Our intellectual interests were deepened and shaped there. Our parochial outlooks on the world were challenged and broadened there. We are confident that many Old Members share similar experiences. We all should nourish such roots, in gratitude for what we were given and in solidarity with those who will come after us.

What will your role be as managers of AFUCO?

We will carry on the traditions and practices of AFUCO, which, as an independent charitable entity organized under US law, allows US taxpayers to make tax-deductible donations to Univ. We hope to build on Paul Chellgren’s great work in founding and guiding AFUCO for 40 years. We hope to make it even more accessible to Univ Old Members in America and to grow its donor base to support Univ during these challenging times for public universities.

Describe Univ in three words:

Welcoming, invigorating, life-changing

This feature was adapted from one first published in Issue 12 of The Martlet; read the full magazine here or explore our back catalogue of Martlets below:

Published: 26 January 2021

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