You'd be forgiven if, at first, you assumed it was a belated April Fool's Day joke.
"The Republican's columnist Tom Shea moving on," read the headline. "[J]ob at newspaper in Abu Dhabi 'a cool opportunity.'"
Sadly, though—for his fans, if not for the man himself—it's no joke: Shea, the long-time reporter and columnist for the Springfield Republican, is leaving not just the paper, but the Valley, to take a job as an editor at an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates' capital city.
Trying to imagine the Republican without Shea is like trying to imagine Springfield without the John Boyle O'Reilly Club, or Northampton without the Iron Horse. He began working for the newspaper as a sports reporter while still in high school, then moved into news, where his reporting during the early days of the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is especially well regarded.
In the mid-90s, Shea started writing his regular and much beloved column, using his allotted 700 words to introduce readers to musicians and writers, retired athletes and unsung community activists, happy couples and heartbroken families. His last column, which ran with minimal fanfare on May 27, was on a quintessentially Shea topic: the Sisters of Providence.
While Shea's work took him all around the Valley, and he's long made his home in Palmer (with his writer wife, Suzanne Strempek Shea, herself a Valley institution), it's hard not to think of him as a Springfield lad, who grew up on Hungry Hill and graduated from Cathedral High. Safe to say, you probably can't find a place less like Hungry Hill than Abu Dhabi. But it's also probably safe to assume that Shea will find the same kind of warm, personal stories to tell there as he did in his hometown.