Malcolm Shaw has seen and done a lot in his 83 years around the sun. He was ringside at the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971, he touched the Stanley Cup in 1994 before the Rangers were given their prize, and he kissed Pope John Paul II’s ring. If you’re wondering what one has to do to live a life like that, it’s simple: Be a carpenter.
As a young carpenter in Belfast, Ireland, Malcom knew two things; that he loved American boxing and that all his favorite events occurred at one place: Madison Square Garden. When Malcolm arrived fresh off the boat in 1961, he never imagined that he’d one day call the famed sporting arena and event center home.
“It was February 10th, 1968, the day before the Garden opened. I was working cutting a sheet of plywood and a limousine pulls up. It stops at the top of the ramp and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby get out. They come over and Bob Hope says to me, ‘Is this the Garden?’ I say, starstruck, ‘Um, yeah, it is.’ I was 25 years old.”
That night, Malcolm received tickets to Bob and Bing’s show from his boss but couldn’t go because he was working.
“I gave the tickets to my wife. I asked her how it was, and she said, ‘Oh it was great. But nobody took our tickets.’ So, I went home, and I threw them in my underwear drawer, and years later I told the archivist at the Garden, ‘You know, I have a pair of these tickets.’ He said, ‘You’re joking!’ So, I have probably the only two tickets in existence from opening night.”
Malcolm joined the NYC Carpenters Union as soon as he arrived in New York and never looked back. He worked on jobs all around the city before finding himself at the Garden, which happened to be by chance. Malcolm had been unemployed for six weeks and was desperately looking for work when a friend at the union hall told him to stop by the Garden to see if they’re looking for anyone.
“I walked in and the old foreman with a cigarette in his mouth, says, “What’re you doing here?” I said that I just came to say hello. He said he actually needed a guy for five days. So, the union hall gave me the go-ahead to work for him for five days and once I was done, I was supposed to go back to the hall to look for more work. I never went back. Five days turned into 57 years.”
To work somewhere for 57 years, you must enjoy it; and Malcolm has. Madison Square Garden became his second home. There is a certain amount of pride that comes with 57 years of fixing and maintaining a space. A lot of that pride also comes from being a card-carrying union member. According to Malcolm, the Garden has always been built union and he hopes it always will.
“Nobody can do anything in here without being union. Nobody can hang a sign or turn on a light…even the cleaners are union.”
Malcolm is now retired, but before he left, one of his goals was to ensure the next generation has the same benefits and opportunity that he had.
But don’t be fooled. Working at the Garden isn’t for the lighthearted. It requires late nights, weekends, holidays, and lots of overtime. As such, Malcolm said there can be a lot of turnover.
“Forget your holidays and forget your family. It’s a great job but it’s very demanding on your family and social life. I must’ve lost about 30 or 40 Thanksgivings and Christmases because there’s always events going on.”
Malcolm argued, though, that it was all worth it.
“I love this place. Every day you come in here there’s something different, new, and exciting. You’re making history. It’s the place to be.”