By Bill Kirk
When the grand opening for the new $40 million, 69,000-square-foot Health and Social Sciences building at UMass Lowell was held in April, there was also a smaller, more intimate gathering inside that attracted the attention of just a few people.
It was the dedication of the Lt. Col. Michael B. Shanahan Conference Room for the Criminal Justice Department. There, family, friends and college staff gathered to remember the years of dedicated service offered by the longtime Andover resident and state trooper, who died in 2006 from throat cancer.
Shanahan’s widow, Diane Shanahan, who still lives in the home at 47 Dascomb Road that the couple shared, said the naming of the conference room in honor of her late husband was a testament to his character.
“Mike was humble, and unassuming,” she said. “But he was quite an accomplished individual.”
Shanahan, whose family was originally from Lowell, grew up in Dracut. He served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War, receiving numerous awards before being honorably discharged in 1970.
He enlisted as a Massachusetts State Trooper in 1971, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in 1996 after 25 years on the force.
In 1981, he graduated with honors from Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill. Then in 1985, he graduated magna cum laude from UMass Lowell with a bachelor’s degree in law and justice.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration, again magna cum laude, from Harvard University in 1994. In 1998, he joined Bank of America as senior corporate security investigator/manager.
In 2006, as his second career in security was taking off, he was stricken with throat cancer. Having never smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol, the disease was a shock to everyone, Diane Shanahan said. She said her husband’s illness may have had something to do with the use of Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam while he was serving there. He died that year.
As a way to honor his memory, Shanahan’s family started a scholarship fund in his name at UMass Lowell in 2008 to help needy students studying criminal justice.
Diane Shanahan said the scholarship is available to sophomores, juniors and seniors who are serious about making a career in criminal justice.
“It’s for deserving, needy students, with high GPAs, but who are well-rounded,” she said.
She said her husband to this day remains an “inspiration to the students. He was and still is a role model.”
Jim Jajuga, a former state representative and former state trooper, was Shanahan’s partner and one of his best friends.
“He was the poster boy for the state troopers,” Jajuga said of Shanahan. “Handsome, fit, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke.”
Every year, the criminal justice department at UMass-Lowell takes applications for the scholarship, which ranges from $1,500 to $2,000. Past winners have gone on to earn second degrees. One is in law school. Another is in graduate school.
The money must be used for tuition, board or other college expenses. It is the first, and only, endowed scholarship in the university’s criminal justice department.
“Mike was an ethical, confident and hard-working individual who continuously inspired his children, friends and colleagues,” Diane Shanahan said. In fact, his son, also Michael, has been a police officer in Andover for the past five years.
To donate to the scholarship fund, contact Danielle Callahan, manager of gift operations at UMass Lowell, One University Ave., Southwick Hall #250, Lowell 01854.