Tiffany Michelle Shackelford
July 31, 1974 – December 27, 2020
Tiffany Shackelford, a leader of communications, policy, and journalism organizations, died December 27, 2020, after contracting COVID-19. She was 46.
Tiffany is survived by her husband of 14 years, Aaron Castelo; son Sam, 9; and an amazingly wide network of friends and relatives.
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 31, 1974, she was part of a Navy family that lived in a variety of places before settling in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County in the early 1980s. As an adult, she lived in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood (before it was trendy). She was living in the Stratford Landing neighborhood of Fairfax County with her family at the time of her death.
Tiffany graduated from West Potomac High School in 1992 and East Carolina University in 1996 with a degree in Creative Writing (Poetry).
In her career, she specialized in bridging the old world of news and public policy with the new world of digital technology. Her work ethic was intimidating, but she approached her work in such an engaging and often amusing way that colleagues turned into lifelong friends. One of her most special gifts was how she loved helping people make connections, in both in her private and her professional life.
Tiffany cherished her many friends and treated them as family. Her holiday dinner parties, and summer barbecues were full of rich conversation, hilarious stories, and laughter. Tiffany appreciated good food and good drink, especially bourbon. She was the life of every party and the center of attention in any room, not because she sought it but because of her natural magnetic energy. Her razor-sharp wit and spot-on observations—articulated effortlessly—made everyone around her laugh and relax. Those moments, full of her warmth and vivacity, will be greatly missed by her friends and family.
State policy dominated Tiffany's career in recent years. She served as chief strategy officer and communications director of the National Governors Association from 2016 to 2019, shaping the NGA's role as a global convener. Her outreach led to new initiatives that connected state chief executives with their counterparts in Canada, Mexico and around the world.
Passionate about voting rights, she most recently directed a voter information task force affiliated with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and served as head of outreach for its 50-state election cybersecurity project before the recent election. This was in addition to her job as executive director of the nonprofit Society for News Design, a global membership organization for visual journalists and media leaders.
She also was a longtime advocate of robust statehouse reporting amid a nationwide shrinkage in the ranks of reporters covering state capitols. In 1999, she helped to create and later served as assistant managing editor of Stateline, a news site covering state trends that was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and that pioneered online-only content delivery of news. In that role, she also helped found and later served as executive director of Capitolbeat, an association that provided training and support for statehouse reporters and editors.
As a consultant for MG Strategy + Design, Tiffany guided many media and nonprofit organizations in their communications and partnership efforts. She also previously led the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the publishing practice for Phase2 Technology.
Always connecting people, in her free time she founded the Online News Association’s first local group in Washington, D.C., in 2008 and ran it for 10 years.
Tiffany is preceded in death by her parents, Brenda Logan Shackelford and Harry Shackelford, Jr., whom she adored and thought of every day. They influenced her life immensely. Brenda was an artist, and Tiffany carried forward a life-long love of art, music and poetry. Harry instilled a fine mixture of a no-nonsense attitude and a laid-back insouciance. These traits help explain why Tiffany could be both driven and easygoing.
Many of Tiffany’s happiest days were spent with Aaron and Sam at Atlantic Beach, N.C., where she had also vacationed with her parents. She loved walking on the beach, collecting shells with Sam and spending long afternoons and evenings relaxing on the front porch of their beach house. Tiffany loved Sam fiercely, raising him with her trademark sense of humor and sarcasm while also encouraging creativity, compassion and independence.
In her 46 years, Tiffany lived a rich life and touched so many people. She will be missed in immeasurable ways.
Remember her the next time you hear what she considered her “at-bat” walk-up music and karaoke song: “The Warrior” by Scandal.
Memorial plans are pending.
Tiffany Michelle Shackelford
January 18, 2021
Watching Tiffany glow with pride over her son Sam's accomplishments was always a delight to see. We'll keep her dreams for Sam alive, through remembrance and to instill hard work and determination into his studies.
January 17, 2021
Tiffany hired me as a contract worker at the Pew Center on the States when I moved to Washington out of grad school in 1999. I appreciated her honesty, irreverance, sarcasm and wit, and she quickly became my first friend in a still unfamiliar city.
Tiffany taught me a ton about media, policy, Washington and people. Her guidance and friendship during my formative years in DC made me wiser and richer.
For the last two decades, as we advanced professionally and personally, we reconnected whenever we could; sometimes after a month or two, sometimes after a year or two. I always looked forward to her take on situations and questions and to hearing about work, family and friends.
I'm heartbroken Tiffany left us so soon. She was one of kind, and I'll miss her dearly. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.
January 16, 2021
Tiffany was intelligent yet kind and caring, bold and always energetic. So energetic! She lit up the room, regardless of the meeting.
I especially enjoyed working one on one with her to strategize our way through the challenges in D.C. to accomplish our common goals. She was a hard worker, an ideas person, and a connector. It was always a pleasure working with her.
It is heartbreaking to know that we won't be meeting up in the city to catch-up and talk shop.
January 15, 2021
Tiffany and I went to middle and high school together and were in church acolyte and youth groups together during that time, as well. She was precocious and I was far behind, but she tolerated me anyway out of some combined sense of community, benevolence and nostalgia.
Tiffany was always smart and strange and special. She was an enlightened spirit. She was also such a character, larger than life. There are few people who fit that bill, but she was even rarer. She contrived as a creative mind, towards fun, humor, excitement, large ideas, connecting people; at the same time, I can’t think of anyone more genuine, authentic and unique.
Here’s to more wine (bourbon), song and laughter. And to Tiffany Shackelford. For living well and right all around, and for bringing everyone else along with her. Love to you and your family, Tiffany. Rest in peace, or however you see fit, since no one doubts that, as always, you’re doing it the absolute best way possible.
January 15, 2021
Aaron and Sam I am so sorry for your loss. While I did not know Tiffany very well directly, I certainly knew ABOUT her from her Father, Harry. Harry and I attended ST. Luke's and were active together in Fort Hunt Sportsmen Assn. We spent many hours together trying to sell raffle tickets at BV shopping center and during those looong hours Harry would entertain with stories of Tiffany growing up...the high school years were most interesting. Whenever I would say you won't believe what my kid has done now, Harry would immediately respond with "well let me tell you...." Amazing stuff about an amazing young woman. I know he dearly loved her as did many.
January 14, 2021
Aaron and Sam, I had to privilege of getting to know Tiffany during the illness of her dad, whom she loved so very much. Her love for you and for all her family and friends will always be exemplary. I also remember the tremendous joy that she shared with everyone when Sam was born, and the many fun pictures and captions she would post about him as he was growing up. I am so sorry for your deep loss. My heart goes out to you both.
January 14, 2021
Another Angel taken way to early from us. Tiffany was a great friend in High School and continued our friendship thru our adult life. Hearing about this broke my heart in many many ways. Prayers Hugs & Love for ALL of Family and Friends
Gretchen Schuyler Brenckle
January 13, 2021
Aaron and Sam, I am so sorry for your loss. Tiffany was an amazing women with a personality that cannot be replaced. My heart goes out to you and your family.
Heather Harris Roemer
January 9, 2021
I am heartbroken to lose a wonderful, irreplaceable friend. We had marvelous adventures and plans to rule the world. I already miss her laugh, her storytelling, her aura. Aaron and Sam, we're here for you. Prayers for healing and peace.
January 8, 2021
I worked with Tiffany all of 2017, along with Peter of BCIU and Ghana's Ambassador to Washington to get the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, invited to the 2018 NGA annual Winter Meeting as the first African Leader to be so invited!!!
Waoh, saddened to hear about her passing. May she rest in peace
January 6, 2021
Aaron and Sam, I am so sorry for your loss. Tiffany was a vital and loving force. I know she will always be near you, encouraging and guarding. I give thanks for her and pray God will bless you and bring you peace, courage, and joy in the knowledge of her love.