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"Grandma Shirley, being with you is like being with Mary Poppins!"
Shirley Filomena Hunt Thompson slipped away with a whisper of a breath on October 9, 2023, leaving husband Jack, four children and their spouses, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, caregiver Nordia Virgo, and countless colleagues, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends to mourn her.
Shirley was born in a week that celebrates gratitude, two days before Thanksgiving in 1935, and lived the first decades of her life in the predominantly Italian Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish area of Pittsfield, Mass., playing with friends and her large Italian family, fishing with her father, and attending Old Central Junior High and Pittsfield High School, where she was a straight-A student. At PHS, she was originally in the College Prep Division, but a lack of parental support for higher learning and a distaste for the dissection of frogs led her to switch to the Commercial (vocational) Division. All she did was rise to the top of the class and set local records for speed and accuracy in typing and shorthand. Those who have known her as the kind, warm, unassuming person she was might be surprised at this; those who have seen her at the keyboard of a Royal would not. From early childhood she stood out with her shiny blond hair (Italy was conquered a lot), clear blue eyes, and festive clothing, made by her family and "adapted" by her into bright colors with sparkles. As she grew into a young woman, her warm, compassionate heart and pragmatic optimism were evident to all who encountered her. Throughout her life, it was remarked by many that they had never known another person about whom no bad word was uttered, and no negative opinion was held.
She met her future husband Jack in the ninth grade and they spent the rest of their lives together, traveling extensively across three continents, and living, working, and raising their family in Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Palm Beach, Fla. Despite being born into the last generation of the traditional American housewife, Shirley read extensively throughout her life, possessed an independent and discerning intellect, and excelled professionally in a variety of jobs: as executive secretary to Berkshire Life Insurance's chief underwriter; as index designer for the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission's Lincoln Day by Day history; as administrative assistant for Westledge Realty in Simsbury, Conn.; administrative assistant in the AV Department of the Consolidated School District of New Britain; and as President of the Auxiliary at St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla. At St. Mary's, she took over the Auxiliary as it was dwindling, and in two years, quintupled its membership. There was no ego in any of this—just a desire to serve. From Jack: "I loved the times when it was appropriate for me to attend something she was organizing. I loved making it clear that I was no more than just the guy that came along with your President."
Without any formal training as an interior designer, she nonetheless had an innate sense of color and line and, just as she had done with her early wardrobe, transformed many rooms into unostentatious, but beautiful environments for living. And the doors were always open in Shirl and Jack's homes, as were available chairs at their tables. Shirley was as indefatigable and gracious a hostess as she was a patient and compassionate listener. She counseled and mentored many in such an understated manner that her mentoring often went undetected. One first-time visitor to their home, an Irish actor in town for work, remarked upon leaving: "They feel like old friends. I can't believe I just met these people!" This easy and instinctive hospitality was as effortlessly offered as was Shirl and Jack's public affection and devotion to one another. This is the end of one of the great love stories, and those who have been in their orbit have often spoke of thinking of them as an inseparable team.
She celebrated her family's victories and empathized with and assuaged its losses. For all the personal and professional successes achieved by her husband, children, and grandchildren, the credit she received for them was often in inverse proportion to the role she had in those successes. If you are among the lucky whose lives were touched by Shirley Thompson, there is no doubt her powerful, yet understated regard has enriched your life. Perhaps you are a grandchild who was read to (for hours) by your grandmother; maybe a daughter or son who benefitted from her patience and unconditional acceptance; perhaps a harried young parent who needed Shirley's help in improvising a changing table in an Antigua, Guatemala restaurant; perhaps even a famous rock star about whom Shirley knew nothing more than she liked the pattern of your shirt and the pleasure of your company. Whoever you are, her gift for listening and empathy made you the center of the universe.
Calling hours are 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, October 27 at the Devanny-Condron Funeral Home at 40 Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, Mass.
A funeral Mass will be offered at St. Ann Church in Lenox, Mass. on October 28, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. by the Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus, and burial at St. Joseph Cemetery in Pittsfield, with a reception afterward at Wahconah Country Club in Dalton. The only expressed wish Shirley had for her funeral was that attendees wear bright colors. (Bonus points for sparkles and glitter.)
In lieu of flowers (she was allergic) or donations, please share a memory of Shirley with her family, or just reach out to somebody who could use a boost. She would like that.