Published 12:14 am Thursday, December 18, 2008
Whoever penned the words “absence makes the heart grow fonder” must have had the Shaffer family in mind.
It’s been 20 years to the day since a traffic accident claimed the life of Andrew “Andy” Shaffer, a dedicated community volunteer and Andalusia Police Department officer and dispatcher, and not a day goes by that his family doesn’t think about him.
It’s that love of family that has prompted his children to do what they can to help their mother get through the holiday season.
“This year, it’s just been very hard on my mom for some reason,” said son Frank, who was 14 and in the car at the time of the accident. He was life flighted to a Florida hospital, where doctors had to revive him three times before he was stable.
“My sisters and I got together and just brainstormed and came up with the idea to put up the marker. Then we thought it would be really great to let people who knew my dad to write in with their memories of him.”
“It was truly an accident,” he said. “The lady driving the other car had diabetes and blacked out from lack of insulin and hit us head on.”
Frank described his father, who retired from the U.S. Air Force to Andalusia with his family in the 1980s, as the ultimate public servant who spent his time with the police department, as a volunteer fireman and rescue squad worker.
“There were many a morning we woke up to find someone sleeping on our couch,” said daughter Sonia. “He wouldn’t let anyone drive home drunk. He was the kind of man would give someone the shirt off his back if they needed it. If you needed a bed and a warm meal, he’d make sure you got it.”
The family is looking for those stories. They are asking anyone who has a memory or a story about Andy Shaffer to send them to “Andy’s Memories,” a post office box leased solely for this project.
“He was taken from us way too soon,” Sonia said. “It’s been 20 years since we looked into his eyes and heard his loving voice. We just wanted to do something that would keep his memory alive and give our mom this opportunity.”
Shaffer’s wife, Ann, said each time she drives past the accident site, “I always have to look. In my heart, I always said I’d like to see something put out there for him.”
Wednesday, Ann got her wish as the family — comprised of son Frank and daughters Gina French and Sonia King — gathered at the accident site on the edge of the Heath Church of Christ Cemetery to erect a memorial in Shaffer’s honor.
Propped up against the simple iron cross was a photograph that depicted Shaffer as his family remembered him best — wearing the maroon color of the APD and a smile.
Ten days after his death, Andy’s daughter Gina French took over his duties as APD dispatcher. She remains there to this day — answering when the residents of Andalusia need help.
“I have people all the time tell about how they knew my father or how he touched their life in some way,” French said. “Now, we just want to be able to put all those memories together.”
Bob Brooks said he called Andy Shaffer a friend and spoke with him just before his death.
“Andy was always trying to help other people,” Brooks said. “That day we were talking about some kind of project we were going to do to help the children in the community and I was shocked when I found out about the accident. The way I remember him is that he was the kind of guy who was easy to meet — always positive and easy to talk to. He is greatly missed.”
Anyone who has a story they would like to share is encouraged to write to Andy’s Memories, P.O. Box 113, Andalusia AL 36420, or by email at email@example.com.