Connecticut Voice

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Full House

This home is filled with love … and pets

By Renee DiNino

Paul Shipman, who is senior director of marketing, communications, and government relations at Connecticut Food Bank, met Thomas Lee, a professional storyteller and arts educator, a little more than 10 years ago.

“Ours is a love story,” says Shipman. “We met on Match. However, we told our parents we met at a party, because they don’t know what the internet was.”

He adds, “Like the movies, I knew right away, even before I met him in person, because I heard him whistling and I love a good whistler.”

Today, they make their happy home with their pets: Oliver (“Ollie”) the cat; two guppies, Palamon and Arcite, named after Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen”; and a snail named Doug.

When Shipman was a young boy of 6, he got his first dog, then a cat, and ever since has never been without a pet. “All of my pets have either wandered into the house or we got them from a shelter,” be says.

Lee grew up in a one-dog family. His father went to the local pound and rescued Sam the mutt. As an adult, Lee was adopted by a street cat. “One night in the rain, he showed up, came in, and that was it.” He called the cat Mr. Kitty, or Mac, and viewed them as just two bachelors sharing a space.

Soon after Lee and Shipman began dating, there came a time when it was time to introduce everyone involved. “When I met Thomas, he and my cat, Bob, took to each other instantly,” says Shipman. The initial encounter actually consisted of Bob just standing on Lee’s chest and having a staring contest. One thing to note: Lee is allergic to cats. As it turns out, Bob had allergies too – they both had asthma and both needed inhalers and anti-asthma pills. A deal-breaker for some when starting a relationship, but not for this crew.

“We had Bob until April of 2018, when he died,” Shipman recalls. “He was an amazing cat, so I didn’t really consider him ‘replaceable.’ But in July of 2019, my friend, who volunteers at the Humane Society in Newington and had been after us for a while about adopting a cat, said she’d seen a great candidate there. We went in on a Saturday and were immediately taken by Oliver. I’d never had an orange tabby before, but the stories about them are true. Oliver is a classic, easygoing, playful companion. He is no-fuss and pure fun. We love having him with us and it’s been especially nice recently, as we find ourselves home so much.”

They adopted Oliver when he was 5 years old and celebrated his sixth birthday on June 18, a few days before their wedding anniversary. I mean, doesn’t everyone throw their beloved furry family members birthday parties?

These two decided to do their wedding in their own way. The loving couple didn’t need a high-priced, over-the-top, fancy wedding; they just needed each other and a sunrise. They settled on June 21, the longest day of the year and a treasured tradition for both.

“We always go to the beach to watch the sunrise on that day and then we go to the other side of Cape Cod and watch it set. We couldn’t decide how many people to invite, or where to hold it, so we decided to obviously head to the Gay Capital of Marriages – Cooperstown, you know, in New York, Baseball Hall of Fame,” says Shipman.

Actually, for those who don’t know, it is also home to the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. Lee had been attending that festival for more than 20 years; Shipman had only been once before and has learned to love opera because of his husband.

So off they went, just the two of them, to Cooperstown to be married at Otesaga Resort Hotel by Otsego Lake at sunrise – sort of. Lee wanted an early morning wedding, because of all the English novels he’d enjoyed over the years. However, the judge couldn’t arrive until 8 a.m. They celebrated their first anniversary this past June.

Shipman’s career has been centered in community and charitable organizations, and Lee is a true intellectual. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Shipman has never stopped working as the number of food-insecure people in Connecticut rises.

Their unique blend of personal and professional accomplishments always makes for great conversation. They moved to their current home in December of 2019 and Lee, a devoted gardener, is all about planting and laying out gardens on the land here.

“We have almost two acres, and between what he’s growing in pots indoors and what’s already transplanted to an outdoor seedling garden, we’re quickly getting a nursery full of plants to use,” said Shipman earlier this year.

The couple shares lots of interests but come at them from different angles. For example, says Shipman: “Thomas likes to joke that we both like ‘mid-century’ design; just different centuries.”

He adds: “We love to check out museums, we love spending time on Cape Cod, where I grew up, and we continue to find different music, books, art, and destinations to introduce to each other.”

And just as Bob the cat and Lee had to overcome an allergy issue, Shipman had to overcome an issue of his own. He remembers telling Lee, “ugh, you are not getting a fish; as a child, I had fish; my cat ate one, very traumatic.”

But Lee has faithfully taken care of their water friends, Shipman has grown to love them, and Ollie has not attempted to go fishing. This family is united in kindness, literature, philanthropy and, most importantly, love.