Mary Shaw Branton

2011 MARY HARRIMAN AWARD winner

The Shawsie Branton Story

The Junior League of Kansas City

Causes/Issue Area(s):  Child Welfare, Diversity

Honors/Achievements: Impassioned advocacy for child welfare and integration in schools

If you looked up the term “civic leadership” in the dictionary, this woman’s name would surely appear among the top entries. Mary Shaw Branton, “Shawsie” to those lucky enough to know her, defines what it means to give a lifetime’s worth of service. Even now, at 90 years old, she continues to serve as a very active volunteer in the Kansas City, Missouri community, and as such, she may be our most senior recipient yet of the prestigious Mary Harriman Community Leadership Award.

By those who know her work, Branton has been hailed as a catalyst who changed the landscape—and the people—of Kansas City forever. A progressively minded innovator who intuited the need for high-quality care for children with disabilities back in the 1940s, she spearheaded the Cerebral Palsy Nursery School (which ultimately became known as Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center), long before the concept of special needs even entered our consciousness as a society.

In the 1950s, a full year before the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, Branton persuaded the board of the nursery school to integrate its students, ahead of the Kansas City school district. In the 1970s, while serving on the board of Planned Parenthood, she worked as a fearless advocate for birth control, and in the 1993, at the age of 73, she became the first female chairman of the board of the Greater Kansas City YMCA.

In her six and a half decades of service, Branton has served on more than 30 boards of directors, fighting tirelessly and compassionately for her belief that every person, regardless of circumstance, deserves a chance to succeed. Today her responsibilities include co-chairing the board for the Vision Research Center, serving on the advisory committees for both Children’s TLC and the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts, and sitting on the development committee at Bishop Spencer Place, a continuing care retirement community.