NEWTON FALLS — In the dimly lit Newton Falls Junior High / High School auditorium, the casket of Earnie D. Shavers, adorned with three massive arrangements of white and blue flowers, sat open on Saturday as relatives, friends and admirers said their final goodbyes to the heavyweight professional boxer and local legend.
A few hundred people talked quietly among themselves as a slideshow of photos from Shavers’ early life and some of his most famous fights — including his 1977 championship fight against Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden and his 1979 Las Vegas championship fight against Larry Holmes — played on a dropdown screen.
Ahead of the 11 a.m. celebration of life, Shavers’ family pooled around the casket to look at him once more, lingering even after it was closed.
Pastor Orneil Heller, officiating the subsequent celebration of life, said that while in England a country was mourning the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, “today, we have our own dignitary in our midst.” He said Shavers, who died Sept. 1 at the age of 78, meant something to so many people.
Shavers was born in Ronaoke, Va., but grew up in Braceville and was a 1963 graduate of Newton Falls High School. He began boxing at 22 and went on to become a two-time world heavyweight championship challenger.
He officially retired from boxing in 1995 and became an ordained Christian minister, moving first to Phoenix, Ariz., and then to England to pastor a church. Shavers also worked in Liverpool in the United Kingdom as head security.
The nearly two-hour celebration of his life Saturday was indeed a celebration, filled with as much laughter as tears, many fond memories, bouts of applause and several stirring songs.
Another local boxing legend, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, recalled being 15 years old and meeting Shavers for the first time while training in Warren in 1976.
“He was like an Adonis,” Mancini said. He said Shavers stretched, did some light shadowboxing and jumped rope before leaving for the day. When Mancini turned to someone else to comment, ‘That’s all he’s going to do?’ that person answered, ‘The way he hits, that’s all he needs to do,’” Mancini said.
Mancini said when he later saw Shavers compete for a championship title on national TV, it showed him that it was possible for someone from the Mahoning Valley to make it in boxing.
“I want to thank Earnie for being an inspiration for myself and other fighters in the area,” Mancini said.
Shavers’ childhood friend, Henry Brown, recalled growing up in the “lower” part of Braceville, where most of the area’s black families lived. He said Shavers’ family “raised food” and that the community came together when Brown’s house, and then later the Shavers’ family home, burned down.
“We always called him Dee,” said Brown said of Shavers. “I never knew his name was Earnie until he was in the paper.”
Shavers’ high school friend, Ron Statie, said in a senior superlative Shavers was deemed “most friendly” and that in his accompanying picture he wore boxing gloves. Statie also recalled Shavers as an outstanding high school athlete.
Others recalled Shavers’ humor, success and willingness to help anyone in need.
Shavers’ longtime friend, Kenny Rainford of England, who worked with Shavers in Liverpool, said when Shavers saw a homeless woman, he got 50 pounds (approximately $60) from Rainford and added his own 50 pounds and handed the money to the woman. When Rainford asked Shavers why he’d done that, Shavers said she needed the money more than them.
Heller remarked that Shavers was the first black man he ever saw step out of a limousine, which earned a laugh from those in attendance.
Shavers’ daughters, Catherine Huguely, Catherine Long, Tamara Shavers and Natasha Carter, for the most part agreed that the scope of their father’s fame was lost on them when they were growing up. They had known Shavers only as “dad” and didn’t care for boxing — except for Carter, who said she wanted to be a boxer when she was younger.
Shavers had 11 children, 24 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, many of whom were in attendance Saturday.
Heavyweight boxing champion Holmes also stopped by Newton Falls Junior High / High School to pay his respects. Holmes took down Shavers in the 11th round in the 1979 WBC heavyweight championship fight. He later remarked that Shavers had one of the hardest punchers in boxing.
Most of those speaking about Shavers on Saturday, however, agreed he was the hardest puncher of all time.
Saturday was not only dedicated to Shavers in spirit, but officially as well, as Warren Mayor Doug Franklin proclaimed Sept. 17, 2022, as Earnie Dee Shavers Day. Heller read the proclamation on Franklin’s behalf.
Warren City Council also made a proclamation honoring and remembering Shavers.
An oak tree — an homage to Shavers’ nickname “The Acorn,” given to him by Ali and referencing his bald head — was planted on the Newton Falls school campus in Shavers’ memory.
He was laid to rest Saturday afternoon in Braceville Cemetery.