It’s an unusually brisk day in St. Augustine. Mayor Nancy Shaver is seated on the enclosed porch off of her living room. An electric fireplace projects dancing flames behind a custom-made iron screen. Her eyes catch a memory in the firelight and she smiles. “Sean and I designed that screen together,” she says. “He didn’t get to see the finished piece, but his influence is in it.”
A beautiful, functional piece of art, the fireplace screen is one of many mementos from a life well lived that adorns Nancy’s Lincolnville bungalow. From a charcoal sketch of her father to a vast collection of public restroom signs, seven decades of stories, travels, and adventures bedeck the walls of the mayor’s eclectic 1,300 square foot home.
Just over a decade ago, Nancy was living in Denver. A self-proclaimed Navy brat and corporate nomad, Nancy found herself with two grown children and a successful career, but no place that felt like home.
Hoping to remedy this, she bought a vacation cottage in Maine. One night, while hosting a small get together, Nancy met Sean Meacham, a stock trader turned seasoned sailor who floated between Maine and Puerto Rico. Instantly, the two perennial wanderers had finally found home.
“He was the love of my life,” she says. “I’ve kissed a lot of frogs —even married some —but when we met, it was instant. We moved in together in less than a month.”
Unfortunately, not long after they began building their life together in Maine, Sean was diagnosed with a rare, terminal form of leukemia.
“We knew we didn’t want to spend our last winter together in Maine,” says Nancy. “A friend told me about St. Augustine and said I would love it.”
Knowing time was precious, Nancy hopped on the internet and found a two bedroom, two bathroom house on a short sale. She bought the place sight unseen, made a quick weekend trip to coordinate with contractors and architects, and then returned north to pack Sean and all of their belongings for one last trip down the coast.
Other than enclosing the side porch, not much work was needed to get the house move-in ready. Built in 1930, the home still had much of its original character, from the built-in bookshelves to the clawfoot tub in the master bath. Still, the couple found a few areas to leave their mark. Sean rigged a light behind the stained glass window over the refrigerator while Nancy converted a small closet off the laundry room into an art studio.
Sean relished the warm, Florida days on the porch swing. He made little birds from palm fronds and gave them to neighbors who stopped to chat. Nancy poured herself into Sean’s care, making sure he had the best quality of life possible. In August 2010, less than a year after moving to St. Augustine, Sean passed away.
As she worked through her grief, Nancy began to pay attention to the local news and a headline about a coral reef project near Riberia Point caught her eye. Nancy called her daughter, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who hadn’t heard of the project. More research revealed the company hired by the city had previously defrauded the government of Dominica on a similar project. Nancy took her findings to City Hall where she met with longtime City Manager John Reagan. “I told him I’d be happy to find another company, a legitimate one, that would be a better fit for their strategic plan,” says Nancy. “That’s when I found out they didn’t have a strategic plan.”
The coral reef project was called off, but other development proposals rose for the same land a few blocks from Nancy’s home. Her business experience told her these projects were not the right fit for the area. She became a founding member of Keep Riberia Point Green, a passionate group that later guided her 2014 campaign for mayor and supported her through re-election in 2016.
“I don’t have any ambitions when it comes to politics. I just love solving problems and helping people.”
Nancy, now in her 70s and a grandmother of two, plans to run for a third term in 2018. She hopes to maintain momentum behind solving what she sees as St. Augustine’s biggest problem: sea level rise.
“I always thought in my retirement I’d be making mediocre art and writing bad poetry,” Nancy says with a laugh. “I thought I would run an art gallery or be an interior designer.”
Her home certainly testifies to her talent in both areas. Her carefully curated collection of artwork includes everything from Australian textiles to pieces by local artists Enzo Torcoletti and Sara Pedigo.
Still, the pieces that mean the most are the ones that make her house into a home. It’s the apple ladder Sean had custom made for the kitchen. It’s the delicate little palm frond birds tucked in special corners. It’s a rusted hook mounted in a wood frame on the guest room wall.
“It’s the first thing he ever gave me,” she says. “It was his way of saying ‘You’ve hooked me.’”
Images by Leonard Blush