Our friend and mentor Shirley Marshall

File photo

Among my most treasured keepsakes are my letters from Shirley Marshall. Like any good survivor of the Great Depression, she used every bit of space on the card or stationery with her tiny precise writing. Often her letters were written over a period of days, a modest reflection of the thought and care she bestowed upon her art and audience.

Shirley Marshall died on December 15, 2016, transitioning peacefully into the next world while leaving this world a better place from her life of service.

I don’t remember our first meeting. So many of us knew her as the warm and reassuring presence between us and the principal’s office at Charlotte Central, back in the day when teachers were trusted to teach and Shirley and a half-time principal handled everything else. But by the time I rode my first bus to high school, Shirley was my friend and mentor—for life.

We lacked the commonalities of religion and politics. Shirley was a devout Catholic, politically progressive and gently Irish. I was casually Congregational, a default Republican and 10th- generation English right off the boat. Our shared loves were farming and community.

When I started maple sugaring at 13, the Marshalls and two other East Charlotte neighbors let me tap their maples. When I started making hay for my sister’s fledgling horse stable, Shirley’s husband, Tommy, and youngest son, Andy, taught me to thread a baler, change mower knives, and how to tell when the hay was dry enough to rake and bale.

Shirley’s husband, Tom, faithfully and gently milked his cows and delivered mail on Saturdays. Their elder children, Michael and Cindy, pursued their educations and careers and were part of Vermont’s most significant exports—our youth.

Shirley continued her life of service after retiring from CCS. Serving lunches to family and friends, volunteer bookkeeping at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, watching and feeding the birds and writing her wonderful letters were favorite activities.

The loss of their son, Andrew, during the maiden voyage of his ultralight plane was a heavy blow to Shirley and Tommy. Several years after Andrew’s death, Suzanne and I were fortunate to adopt a child named Andrew. Not surprisingly the occasion of his adoption brought a present and welcome from Shirley. I have long since forgotten what was in the package, but I will never forget the wrapping paper. It was faded but neat and covered with the name “Andrew” all over it.

How many years had she kept that used sheet of wrapping paper now passed from one child to another? She had lost her beloved youngest son and welcomed ours in his memory.

I cannot summon the words to do justice to Shirley’s beautiful life, but I will always treasure memories of my friend and mentor Shirley Sheehan Marshall.