Passed away peacefully on April 3, 2021 at St. Luke’s Home in St. John’s.
Born in Woodstock, Ontario, Shirley grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She became a successful model and sales rep for a Manhattan fashion company before moving to St. John’s with her husband and young family in 1961. The adjustments that went with that change of scene and pace became the stuff of family lore, but she did not miss the big city; she loved having a house with a yard and watching her children play and roam safely with their friends.
Shirley quickly plugged into community life while raising her family: first with community organizations such as the Jaycettes and musical groups such as the Roland Whitten Singers; and later in media, starting with her “Over the Back Fence” column on the ‘women’s page’ of the St. John’s Daily News in the early 1970s.
She was best known as the host of Coffee Break and other shows and specials on CBC Television during the 1970s and 1980s. She loved her work, booking and interviewing hundreds of people, from community figures to medical and legal experts, to celebrities such as Victor Borge (a personal favorite), Margot Fonteyn, Vera Lynn, and the then newly married Margaret Trudeau. Coffee Break’s weekly “Ask the Doctor” segment often took on topics some considered out of bounds at the time, particularly around women’s health. Well into the 2000s, Shirley ran into people who were still using their souvenir coffee mugs from appearances on her show. In later years she went back to her newspaper roots with a weekly column in the Telegram.
Throughout her life, Shirley juggled a wide range of interests and commitments. Her first response to requests for her time was, “Hang on, let me get my appointment book.” She worked or volunteered for scores of committees, events, and boards over the years. These included the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, Pippy Park, the Rennie’s River Foundation/Fluvarium, VOWR, WHIN Publications, the Salvation Army, the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland, the Downtown Development Association, Welcome Wagon, Big Brothers, St. John’s Day Committee, the Y, the Status of Women Council, the College of Trades (now College of the North Atlantic), and NTA Music Council Concerts.
Shirley was one of the first women invited to join the St. John’s Rotary Club. Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellowship and the 1997 YWCA Women of Distinction were among her many awards.
But the bulging appointment diary that tracked Shirley’s long workdays never got in the way of family commitments, be they weddings, elaborate themed birthday cakes, graduation ceremonies, or after-school pickups. She taught two generations to love the kitchen, sleepovers, and group hugs. Her family treasures their memories of these and so much more.
Shirley is survived by daughters Susan and Tracey (Lorne), son Chris (Anne Marie), grandchildren Matthew, Alexandra, Sydney, William and Amelia, and extended family in St. John’s, Ontario and the United States. Close personal friends and neighbours include her stalwart best friends Lois Hicks and Sophie Firme. She was predeceased by her mother Audrey Telford, younger brother USAF Col. William Telford, and former husband Warren.
The family is grateful to the loving and dedicated staff and management at St. Luke’s Community Living, who helped make Shirley’s two-year stay happy and healthy. Special thanks go to staff in Pleasant View Terrace, and to Nicole, Glenn and Herb in the Inglewood unit for making her last day a peaceful one.
Plans for a church service and celebration of life will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to St. Luke’s Community Living or the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.