May 28, 2021

Shannon Fitzgerald: “Wild at Heart… but a Heart of Gold!

By Elizabeth

Photo Start is a family. We care for one another, we look out for one another, and we share stories about who we are and what is important to us. 

Which is why the Photo Start Family was truly honored when the Doty Family reached out to us last month, with some incredible stories about their brother and son, Shannon, who passed away on December 5, 2019.  It was quite obvious from the get-go that Shannon was a very special person who lived life to the fullest and had an enduring sense of adventure that carried him around the globe. Shannon brought the Photo Start and Doty families together… Even in his absence, his presence was felt.

As Caitlin, Shannon’s younger sister, shared, Shannon supported orphanages in East Africa with a non-profit he founded, Artists for Orphans. He would purchase and resell traditional Shona artwork to fund his plans to educate young people in photography. This is a mission that is very close to our hearts, as well.

Shannon’s father, Bill, and his sister, Caitlin, offered to donate some photo equipment as well as some artwork to Photo Start, that could be auctioned off to help fund and support our work. We were quite grateful for their consideration and contribution, and look forward to working with the Doty Family to successfully auction off this artwork and find other ways to create shared value. We hope to update you in the days ahead on our ongoing collaboration! 

Today, May 28, 2021, on what would have been his 54th birthday, both families have come together to celebrate the life of Shannon Fitzgerald. We honor Shannon’s generosity of spirit, his appreciation of art, and the care to uplift young people- that brings us all together.

As a tribute to Shannon, we invited Caitlin to share one of her favorite memories of her older brother. This story reveals the early days of a person who would one day use his time, energy, and effort to venture far, to be extra resourceful, and to go his own way! Please, give it a read and try not to laugh and shake your head as you read about a young Shannon.

The Youngest Explorer

By: Caitlin Doty Smith  

Young Shannon

My brother Shannon lived his life on his own terms; he followed his internal compass unapologetically, never concerning himself with what anyone thought of his choices or direction. He was intensely charismatic, giving, and humored himself with the occasional controversy.  He had the unique ability to ruffle feathers without losing his charm; you just couldn’t help but love him, even when his behavior was exasperating.

Shannon’s escapades have become our family’s most beloved lore. One story that has been told and retold over the decades began innocently enough with a trip to a cabin in Yosemite with our grandparents, when Shannon was 12 years old. Shortly after, he asked our father to take him backpacking in Yosemite. When he was informed that they would go backpacking another time, Shannon decided to plan his own trip. As his classmates would later report, he said that he was going to live with the bears in Yosemite. Now, one must understand that Shannon was very knowledgeable about the outdoors; he would later spend three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the winter, where he ironically was tracked by a bear during a solo stretch in the snow. So, unbeknownst to our parents, he swiped the best camping gear from the attic and somehow managed to convince the Greyhound station to sell him a ticket to Yosemite, unaccompanied and ready for an adventure.

When Shannon failed to come home from school, our parents understandably became frantic. Luckily, one of his friends spilled the beans to his mother, who called our mother to report what she had heard. Our father wasted no time making the six-hour drive to Yosemite, where he questioned random campers at the base camp if they had seen a child camping alone. He had a hunch that Shannon would be in the campground without vehicles, and sure enough, he recognized the family tent. Shannon, however, was nowhere to be found.  The only food he appeared to have brought was a can of beans (he hated beans) and a single potato. No matter, Shannon was resourceful beyond his years!

Patiently and expertly, Dad chose a position far enough away to avoid detection by Shannon, but close enough to see when he returned. Finally, Shannon ambled back to the campsite where Dad ambushed him. Shannon was accompanied by an adult couple, who readily disclosed that they were visiting from Canada to rock climb and they did not have the appropriate gear or wilderness skills to explore the backcountry. Shannon had introduced himself and offered to serve as their guide and to share his camping equipment in exchange for food. Thus far, their 12-year-old guide had done a fantastic job. Luckily for our father, he caught up with them before their planned venture into the backcountry; he knew that he had no chance of tracking Shannon down in the vast and remote landscape beyond the valley floor.

For his part, Shannon did not protest leaving; he knew that he had been busted and was in the wrong. He didn’t allow himself to be too bothered by the turn of events, a quality that stayed with him throughout his life.  Our father was so relieved to find him safe, he did not yell or get angry; they both simply understood that it was time to go home. Nor did our mother rebuke him upon his return, the relief was palpable. In the end, Shannon had the solo trip that he set out to make; the first of many life adventures that would take him all over the world to destinations both beautiful and sometimes dangerous. 

As our father likes to say, if he could choose only one person with whom to face the apocalypse, it would, hands-down, be Shannon; he was born with survival skills and developed his wilderness know-how at a young age. And our family will never stop laughing about the time he struck out to live with the bears in the wilderness with his can of beans and a potato; what an endearing, rascally, venturesome delight.

If this story inspires you to do so, click HERE to create your own fundraiser. You can access more resources HERE to get you started and host a successful drive that honors a loved one’s memory, while also creating a positive impact in the lives of youth around the world! 

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