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Lori Shapiro married her high school sweetheart and landed a coveted job in the White House while still in graduate school.
Working as an analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton Administration, she focused on issues such as bridging the digital divide and technology and poverty, before taking on an even more prestigious assignment as the liaison to the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.
The Bucks County native was on track to have a bright future in government service but she traded it in – her friends say never showing a bit of regret – to become a full-time wife and mother of four, freeing up her politically ambitious husband, Josh, to pursue his elective office aspirations.
These days, while he is out campaigning around the state as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Shapiro’s hours are filled keeping up with their three pre-teen and teen-age boys and a daughter in college along with taking care of a house and two dogs in Montgomery County.
At 49, Lori Shapiro’s friends say she is the behind-the-scenes rock for her husband but together they strive to keep their family and his political life in balance. They want to ensure a well-rounded and safe life for their kids despite the public attention that his government service tends to draw.
Doing that has kept Shapiro from taking a more visible role in her husband’s gubernatorial campaign although she said she looks forward to getting out on the trail in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
“But it is also very important to us that our kids have stability at home, too. So it will be a balancing act that all moms and parents are quite familiar with,” Shapiro wrote in her responses to emailed questions sent to her. She declined an interview with PennLive, with the campaign saying she felt most comfortable responding to questions in writing.
“I’ve always tried to keep Josh motivated and be encouraging to him by reminding him how high the stakes are and why he is doing public service to begin with,” she said. “It might not always be the most conventional, but I feel part of my role is to keep him focused in that way.”
A longtime friend who went to school with both Shapiros, Jennifer Groen, said she’s not surprised Lori isn’t more public in the campaign. She said she was never one to seek the spotlight and always has been a fairly private person.
Even as girl when they got together with friends and talked about embarrassing topics, Groen said Shapiro would giggle but kept her own stories to herself.
“Lori is definitely not going to be that person with the mic screaming but she’ll show up at the rallies and she’ll make sure her friends do,” said Groen, assistant head of schools at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, the Jewish day school in Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia. It’s the school their daughter graduated from and where their three boys are enrolled. It’s also the school where Josh and Lori Shapiro met in ninth grade, albeit when it was in a different location and known as Akiba Hebrew Academy.
“I’m in adolescent education and we tell people all the time, there’s not one way to be a leader,” Groen said. “You can be a leader by standing like Josh does with a microphone. But you can also be a leader by standing in the corner and making sure his speech has all the points it needs – and that’s Lori.”
Lori Ferrara spent her early childhood in Yardley. Her father was an electrical engineer, her mother, an office manager and her stepfather, a veterinarian.
She has fond memories of ice skating on Lake Afton in the winters and riding bikes with her older brother to the Lower Makefield library in the summers.
“We used to beg our parents constantly to take us to Greenwood Dairies for ice cream and to the Wawa in town for potato chips,” Shapiro said. “When I was older and lived in Newtown, I worked at the pizza place next door to my house and spent lots of time with friends across the street at Goodnoe’s eating ice cream.”
Goodnoe’s also is the ice cream parlor where her husband shared in a campaign ad that the couple had their first official date.
Another memory she shared from her earlier years was her summer job in high school and college at Sesame Place, where she worked her way up from the line to becoming a supervisor and then manager in its food service department.
“It was such as great place to work as a teenager and a college student,” she said.
Living in Bucks County made for a nearly hourlong commute to and from school but one of her former teachers, Sharon Levin, recalls Lori never missed a day.
Levin said she was a good student and remembers she played on the softball team. Using a Yiddish term, Levin described Shapiro, as well as her husband and children as “mensches,” or particularly good people.
“They are kind, caring for humankind, caring about the environment, and caring about social justice,” Levin said.
Groen spoke of Shapiro’s kind and nurturing nature. She said in their high school senior year they went to Israel together on a Volunteers for Israel service trip. Groen said she got sick a lot while there and it was Shapiro who came to her aid.
She took her to the doctor and waited in the waiting room with her, she said. Shapiro brought her tea and food. She checked on her even “when I would become annoying,” Groen said. “She was still the person who was there for me.”
When Shapiro headed off to Washington, D.C. after graduating from Colgate University with a bachelor’s in anthropology, Groen didn’t lose touch with her. She recalled being impressed when Shapiro landed her job at the White House.
“We were all getting our first jobs out of school and she was working at the White House and I was like how did that happen? That’s the coolest thing I ever heard,” Groen said.
Starting a family
Seeing Lori and Josh Shapiro reconnect in Washington, D.C. – where he too went to work after graduating from University of Rochester – and resume their relationship that began in high school seemed so natural, friends say.
“Everyone knew they would end up together,” Levin said.
The couple married in 1997 and the Shapiros had their first child Sophia in 2001, a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At that point, Shapiro said, “we knew it was time to find our way back home to PA to be near our families.”
In the years that followed, they expanded their family having Jonah, now 17; Max, 13; and Reuben, 11; and acquiring dogs: Bentley and Bo.
The Shapiros live near their parents who are very involved in their grandchildren’s lives, friends say..
“I think that is part of what makes Josh successful because he doesn’t have to worry so much,” Groen said. “He knows the kids are in really good hands with Lori and her family and his family. His dad being a pediatrician has been really helpful as well.”
Besides having that support network, Shapiro said her kids grew up in local politics and are familiar with the demands of the campaign trail, having attended the events, picnics and parades that go with it.
“We always felt like it was important for them to understand why Josh was so busy and away from home so much,” she said.
As busy as his schedule keeps him, Shapiro said her husband never missed an important program or school play or a special event for their kids.
“It has always been important to us that our kids know they come first, but that they also understand the importance of public service and that making a contribution to your community comes in many different forms,” she said.
Holding down the home front
Shapiro says in her rare moments of spare time she enjoys watching the Philadelphia 76ers with her family and reading.
“I love to ask people I meet what they have read recently that they really enjoyed,” she said. “I have found some of my favorite books that way and they are almost always books that I would not choose or would not have gravitated to on my own. My nightstand is piled high with a stack of what’s up next because I don’t have nearly enough time to read as I would like.”
As the primary caretaker at home, friends spoke admiringly about Shapiro’s ability to stay on top of everything going on in her children’s live, volunteering at school whenever asked, and being involved in the school’s alumni association.
“She’s everywhere the kids are and she’s making sure they feel like they’re having a very normal experience,” Groen said.
Shapiro’s friends say she also makes time for them when they need her advice and support.
Another longtime friend Rachel Saifer said Shapiro has helped her through some difficult moments in her life by urging her to put them into perspective. She said she treasures one of Shapiro’s texts offering encouraging words and keeps a printout of it on her desk at the University of Pennsylvania where she works as director of operations.
“She has a calming influence,” Saifer said. “I think she’s incredibly wise.”
‘You better win’
Shapiro describes the decision-making process that her family went through when her husband began considering a run for governor as “weighty.”
“This is not easy on families and specifically on kids,” she said. “But in this moment, we need people in public service who can serve with strength, courage and moral clarity. Our futures, our children’s futures, and our democracy, depend on it.”
And she reminds her husband of that every morning on his way out the door – and his campaign has made note of it. Putting her finger to his chest, she tells him “you better win,” according to a message his campaign sent out.
Her friends say Lori is her husband’s closest confidante.
“She’ll say things to Josh like you need to pay attention to this or this has to become a bigger issue and here’s why,” Groen said. “I think he really, really respects her opinion. She offers good insight that resonates with people because she’s out there every day talking to people at the supermarket and stores and at soccer games.”
What’s more, she said Shapiro keeps up to date on current events and cares deeply about issues such as protecting women’s reproductive rights and voters’ rights, reducing gun violence, and holding drug companies accountable.
If she becomes Pennsylvania’s first lady, Groen said residents of the commonwealth will see in Lori Shapiro is “someone who has their eye on the issues and is going to help her husband try to solve the problems before they get too big.”
Shapiro said she hasn’t spent a lot time planning what her role would look like, but said serving as first lady would be “an incredible honor and a privilege. While it’s not a role I ever imagined I’d be in, I see it as a unique opportunity to help make a difference and I would be proud to serve our commonwealth alongside Josh.”