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Shirley Anne Wolfe

1929 - 2012, Santa Barbara

Our beloved mother, Shirley Anne Wolfe, died peacefully at Sarah House in Santa Barbara on April 9th, 2012 at the age of 82. The family members gathered around her were supported by the staff of Sarah House, and previously by Vista del Monte, to whom we extend our gratitude.

Shirley was born on April 30th, 1929, in San Diego. Shortly after her birth, she was left at an orphanage with a note from her single mother saying, “If no one comes to claim her, I will come back.” When she returned, Shirley had already been adopted by our grandparents, George and Mildred Davis of Santa Monica. She was a beautiful child who became a lovely, charismatic woman.

Like many young women of the era, Shirley married young, at 19, to the WWII veteran Kenneth Hodges. She began her family almost immediately: first Devon, and in a year, Mark. David came along 6 years later. We were a regular mid-century family: Dad in aerospace, Mom at home, and a station wagon in the driveway. But to call Shirley a “stay-at-home Mom” belies her accomplishments. From the fifties to 1970, Shirley earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, tried her hand at teaching, and took painting and extension classes.

These activities did not prepare her for the divorce from her husband in 1971. It took courage and resiliency to re-start her life at the age of 42 after 23 years of marriage. To a world now shaped by feminism and rocked by the cultural tectonics of the 70’s, she brought her wit and capacity for openness – and she was herself transformed. Shirley went back to graduate school at USC to become a librarian, finally finding a career that expressed her abiding love of reading.

At USC she made new young friends who added vibrancy to her life. Some of those friends became lifelong connections. She was a good, smart, and thoughtful friend, said one of those schoolmates recently.

Her first job was in a corporate library, but soon she got a post with LA City at the Baldwin Hills Library where she stayed for over a decade. She was proud of being a librarian, and was known for her ability to recommend just the right book.

Now independent, self-confident, and assured, Shirley found love again. She married Bob Wolfe, an artist, musician, and designer in 1980. They lived together for 12 years and then divorced, only to become better partners later in life.

In the last decade, Bob drove up to Santa Barbara almost every weekend to be at Shirley’s side. As her mind faded with dementia and she could no longer read herself, he read beloved books to her aloud. When she called his name in those last days, he was there.

Let me add a broader perspective to this chronology of Shirley’s life. She was a Unitarian, a devoted grandmother, an Amy Goodman aficionado, a book club and sangha member. She was a docent who loved opera, music, theater, art museums, and good books. She played the piano and painted and loved to garden, even when that garden was only a few pots on a porch. She was sharply perceptive--and very funny.

There was a moment on one of her last days when she began humming “What a Wonderful World.” I pulled up YouTube on my IPhone and set it on her lap. As Louis Armstrong sang the refrain, she looked up at me and my sister—her face luminous with joy--as if to say: “Do we dare imagine such beauty?”
We can imagine this beauty through her. She steadfastly supported her three children for all of her life, readily giving the most important gift a parent can give to children—she let us know we were loved. Her nine grandchildren also felt the warmth of her love for them and her three great grandchildren will grow up hearing stories about her.

Services will be held at the Unitarian Church in August. Donations may be sent to Sarah House, www.sarahhousesb.org, and the Quire of Voyces, www.quireofvoyces.org, whose concerts she loved to attend.

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