Shirley Shipley, the surviving spouse of the Rev. Ralph Shipley, loved little more in life than to be in the middle of a big family gathering. Her last family affair was a virtual one, as her children and grandchildren and their partners gathered on a conference call to share memories, to remind her she was tremendously loved, and finally to say goodbye as she succumbed to complications from COVID-19. She passed away peacefully on April 8 at the age of 85.
Shirley spent much of her early life packing, unpacking, and being the new girl at school as her family followed her engineer father from one commercial construction project to the next. She attended nearly a dozen schools before graduating from McKeesport High School. All that moving would suit her well for the nomadic life of a parish minister, her father told her when she met her seminary-bound husband to be. Ironically, she and Rev. Ralph Shipley settled in at Trinity United Methodist Church in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, where for 21 years, they raised their five children, mentored ministerial interns, and generally gave sanctuary to anyone needing a place to call home. There was always room for one more at Shirley’s dinner table.
Shirley met Ralph in what was to become an epic love story of a last-minute fill-in camp counselor and a handsome young man looking for a different Shirley, a cross-dressing softball game, and the unexpected answer to a prayer. For more than 50 years, they built a life filled with so many more stories of love, loss, challenges, friendship, and accomplishment.
As her oldest child was starting high school and her youngest beginning preschool, Shirley was admitted to the freshman class at California State College, her husband having submitted an application on her behalf and only confessing to it when the acceptance letter arrived. For the next four years, she juggled three time-consuming jobs: student, mom, and minister’s wife, and turned in magna cum laude performances in all three. Graduate school and 20+ year career teaching children with special needs followed.
The wife of a preacher, Shirley was every bit a minister, too. She shared her deep faith as a discussion leader in Sunday schools and Bible study groups, served as a spiritual caregiver as a Stephen Minister, and strived every day to live a life of love and service to others. In these and so many other ways, she gave strength and comfort to all who knew her.
In the final year of her life, a progressive dementia took so much from her, yet she never lost her faith or her humor.
Shirley will be desperately missed by so many people, and especially her surviving children and her “daughters-in-love”: Tim and Marcia (Gibsonia, Pa), Chris and Nancy (Redwood City, Ca), Neal and Susie (Mt. Lebanon, Pa.), and Wes and Nancy (Gibsonia, Pa). They and Shirley’s 10 grandchildren and their partners talked to “Grammy” in the day before she passed. She left us knowing she was loved and had done a fine job raising the family she so loved.
She is also survived by her sister, Patricia Liddle (Sun Lake, Az), her dear cousins, and too many friends to count. Now, she joins Ralph G. Shipley and her daughter, Debbie Shipley Redfoot, for a long-awaited reunion.
A service of remembrance will be held when real hugs return to replace virtual ones and we can fully celebrate the life and the gift that was Shirley Shipley. To honor her memory, please consider a gift to the Debbie Shipley Family Trust, which provides Christian camping experiences for young people with developmental disabilities. (United Methodist Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, 223 Forbes Ave, Suite 707, Pittsburgh 15222.)
Or, do as Shirley would, and send a card to someone to let them know you are thinking of them.