How it all began
The things that Elizabeth Shaughnessy loves about playing the game are tactics, problem solving, and of course, winning. But what she loves most about chess itself is its ability to cross boundaries and appeal to all ages. One of her early memories was as a child in Ireland watching her father play with a Lithuanian WWII refugee whose family hers was sheltering. By the age of five Elizabeth’s father had taught her chess, and she, her father, and brother played for fun.
It wasn’t until she attended University College in Dublin to study architecture that she began to seriously study the game when she joined the chess team there. In 1969 she played in her first chess Olympiad in Lublin, Poland. In 1970 she became the Irish Women’s chess champion. After graduating, Elizabeth went to Yugoslavia to be part of the international team that built New Belgrade. She continued to build schools and hospitals in Dublin, London, and the United States.
Elizabeth met and married Stephen Shaughnessy, an American attorney, and settled in Berkeley. Raising three children was a full time job, which left her with no time (or energy!) to play chess. She would not resume playing chess until 1998 when she once again qualified for the Irish women’s team and played at the Chess Olympiad in Elista, Kalmikia. Since then, Elizabeth has played in chess Olympiads in Istanbul, Slovenia, Italy, and Germany. As an Executive Board member of the USCF she represented the U.S. at the Chess Olympiad in Spain in 2004.
In 1981 Elizabeth was asked to volunteer-teach chess at her son’s school in Berkeley. Soon more schools were asking for chess instruction, and even though she was volunteering five days a week, she still could not serve every school seeking chess instruction. Noting the diverse appeal of chess and the incredible demand for it (BCS serves over 5,000 girls and boys in kindergarten through 12th grade in over 120 schools), she founded the non-profit Berkeley Chess School. George Koltanowski, her long time friend and mentor, served on the BCS board until his passing in 2000. During this time Elizabeth also served as a delegate for the United States Chess Federation, and was dually appointed as Scholastic Director for Northern California.
After the Berkeley School District declared bankruptcy, Elizabeth was urged by colleagues and friends to run for election to the school board. She was elected in 1986. With the help of many others, Elizabeth and other school board members were able to dispense of the state bankruptcy overseer and get the books back in the black within one year. She was re-elected, and continued to serve until 1994.
In 2002, Elizabeth was elected to the board of CalChess, where she served as President from 2003–2005. She was also elected to serve on the board of the United States Chess Federation in 2004.
For her longstanding dedication to the community, Elizabeth has won several awards, including a $25,000 Avanti! MAGIC award for community service and a 2004 “Hometown Hero” award by the Berkeley Rotary Club. In 1992 and again in 1993 she received the USCF’s Membership Leader award. In 2007 she received a Certificate of Special Recognition from Congresswoman Barbara Lee for her dedication to Alameda County’s children. (In 2009 she was named one of Bank of America’s five Bay Area Local Heroes).
Although she once walked over 100 miles on the Pilgrim’s Walk in Spain, when asked about her proudest achievement, Elizabeth immediately says her children. She is proud that they’ve grown to be good human beings, to have a sense of perspective on what is important in life, and she knows they will contribute to society. Elizabeth also knows that BCS is doing enormously good work — if she didn’t believe that, she would have retired long ago to play the piano and study chess. What she hopes for the Berkeley Chess School is to find a permanent home to enable it to continue the good work.