At 100, she woke each morning surprised to find herself still alive at such an age – and ended the day sipping whiskey with her son-in-law. Shirley Morrow Marshall’s life began in the small riverside town of Oceanport, NJ and ended 100 years later at a daughter’s home in Alexandria Va. In between, she lived a life of love, loss, giving and sharing.
In later years, she reflected on how in her youth she played basketball under “boy’s rules,” appreciated nature (birds, especially), her brief stint in nursing school in New York, her work in a dental office near her family’s home just outside Ft. Monmouth, and her dates at the Wanamassa Country club, where she developed a lifelong affinity for whiskey.
World War II changed her life’s trajectory. Small gatherings of friends and family gave way to entertaining troops from around the country at USO dances. Her dancing skills and her warmth brightened the lives of many soldiers heading off to war. One man was especially charmed and the feeling reciprocated. In 1945, she ventured off on a first great adventure: moving to the Panama Canal Zone to start married life with Lt. Donald S. Marshall. Years later, she told tales of visiting local communities and meeting the ‘fly boys’ in her brief time there.
Over the next 20 years, her life changed again multiple times. After returning from the Canal Zone, she worked at the Harvard Coop bookstore to support her husband in obtaining his undergrad and doctorate degrees in anthropology. She helped build an addition to her mother-in-law’s home in Danvers, MA, that became ‘home base’ while her husband continued his anthropological studies and they began raising a family.
With young children, she travelled to the South Pacific twice to join her husband for extended periods. Her retellings of these adventures were filled with the kindness of strangers and friends – and only rarely did she acknowledge her own bravery in travelling half-way round the world, on her own, with first a baby and then with three young children, via plane and ship!
Another ‘big adventure’ occurred in 1962 when her husband returned to active military duty and they left Danvers, settling in Alexandria, VA, after a year at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. By this time, four children looked to her for emotional support and stability as Don continued to travel and work long hours at the Pentagon. This was especially true when he was gone for two years serving in Vietnam. Fortunately, she always had wonderful relationships with neighbors, friends, and relatives for mutual support.
Once the children were grown and launching on new paths, and Don retired from the military, she hoped to travel. Then an unexpectedly painful ‘adventure’ happened: her husband left for a new relationship and family. But as always, once the shock wore off her attitude shifted to the positive. She could control her own finances, get the house fixed up, and have grown children living with her off and on as they pursued their own adventures! She could also spend summers with her sister and brother-in-law in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she made new friends and that she came to love as a second home.
While this might sound like the beginning of an easy old age, more changes awaited. She dealt with each of them with grace and strength. 18 years after he left, she invited her now single, ailing former husband to move back to her home. With their daughters’ help, he managed another five years of pleasant life, surrounded by his beloved papers and books.
Then, a deeper blow: her daughter-in-law, Mavis Marshall, passed away in 2013 and her only son, Lance M. Marshall, passed two years later. Losing a child was devastating and yet she persevered. She stayed positive, looking forward. Grandchildren helped to soften the blow, giving ‘Nana’ a new generation to love and support.
Finally, while a double hip replacement in her late 80s kept her mobile, a wrist injury in 2016 led to a final move from her home of 50+ years to daughter Annabel Baer’s household. Here she found a simple but not quiet life! She reveled once again in the bustle of children and grandchildren – and their friends – passing through. And as in all her life, they stayed to visit and bask in her warmth, humor and support. She kept track of everyone’s activities while knitting hats and scarves for the homeless and baby blankets for friends and relatives. And she could always be counted on for current weather and news, from both paper and tv!
The constant in her long life was an openness and acceptance of all people. She cared about people as individuals, not their race, religion, gender or any other personal details. On the extraordinarily rare times when she disliked someone, the reason was not hard to see. Her comments on the current President were startling to those who knew only her normal, positive self!
Survived by her three daughters, Mira Marshall (Andrew Majett), Shirley Moana Marshall (John Hardies), Annabel Baer (Michael Baer), loving grandchildren, and a wide circle of family and friends.
In her memory, please show someone you care about them and forgive a trespass. Her model of loving acceptance can only do good at this difficult time. For those who care to make a financial donation, she loved wildlife such as elephants, https://www.elephants.com/, and helping people, https://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/.
Memorial services will be held at a later time, when safe to gather.
To plant a tree in memory of Shirley Morrow Marshall, please visit our tribute store.