• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • September 27, 2013 in Columnists

    Nothing left behind but smiles, sparkles and sequins


    Shirley Marks was truly a colorful character. She dressed to the nines for the local celebration of Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball in 2005.
    (Photo by Debra DeAngelo)

    I’m going to tell you about my friend, Shirley Marks, one of our local colorful characters. She passed away unexpectedly yesterday. Sure, she was in her 80s, and was looking a bit worn and thin lately, but don’t be fooled — she was still a firecracker. Truly, I didn’t see this coming. She called me just a couple days before she died, and I still can’t quite grasp it.

    Yesterday morning, Shirley got up like every day, decided to bake brownies and called a friend to come over and share them. He lived a few blocks away and started walking. By the time he arrived, Shirley was gone. Just sat down in a chair and… passed. He called 911, and when the emergency crew arrived minutes later, the brownies were still baking. One of the firefighters turned the oven off. And that was that. Apparently her heart just… stopped.

    How do I summarize my strange and special relationship with Shirley. For starters, it’s her fault that I’m working at the Express. She started reading my column about a million years ago when I was writing for the Valley Tribune, and when the editor’s position opened up at the Express, she called publisher Charley Wallace right up on the phone and demanded that he hire me. Although Charley’s fond of saying that he hired me because I was breathing, I’m sure Shirley had something to do with it, because you just didn’t say “no” to Shirley.

    Shirley was one of the few people who could call me in the thick of press day, and our office manager would know to put the call through. My standard for taking a call on press day is “Unless they’re bleeding, take a message.” Except Shirley. She called on press day just the week before last, and asked me to type up a letter to the editor on the spot while she dictated it over the phone. I sighed, said “Sure,” and started typing.

    Consider that I’m known for neither patience nor charity on press day. There’s only a small handful of people who can get away with interrupting me on a Tuesday and leave with all their fingers. Shirley was one.

    Shirley’s phone calls and phone messages always began with her signature gruff and gravelly, “Debra.” As if to say, “Debra. Pay attention!” Sometimes what followed would be a command to attend a certain function, but usually it was glowing praise: “I loved your column this week! I cut it out and sent it to my Congressman!” (She still cut things out and mailed them — how cute is that?) She’d always remind me, “I’m your Number One Fan!” and would then say “Bye!” in such a way that you could hear her smile.

    She literally was my Number One Fan, going back more than 20 years to my Valley Tribune days, and so I thought it only befitting that upon her passing, I dedicate this column to her. Shirley wasn’t merely some wacky old lady. She inspired me. She taught me a thing or two, and I want to share them with you:

    ~  Wear what makes you happy. Fashion? Pssshh. Sparkles, zebra stripes, wacky hat — wear them. Funky embroidered peasant dress? Wear it. Red and turquoise jogging suit? Wear it. Crazy Christmas sweatshirt covered in glitter and sequins? Wear that too. People think you’re nuts? That brings us to the next lesson:

    ~  Who cares what people think about you. All that matters is what YOU think about you. Be yourself, and those who like you the way you are will stick around. Those who don’t will fall away. You’ll end up surrounded by people who lift you up rather than tear you down.

    ~  You won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. And sometimes demand it. Shirley called me up one cold winter morning in 2003 when our country was poised to go to war in Iraq, and informed me that we were going to a peace march in Sacramento, and told me what time to pick her up. She also informed me that we’d be stopping for ice cream on the way home. Marching across the Tower Bridge to the State Capitol with her is one of my favorite memories. Let me tell you, when a 70-something gal in a purple patchwork jacket tells you you’re going to get your lazy butt out there and march for peace — is there any other option than doing so?

    ~  Go out to lunch with friends. A lot. Good food, good friends, good times — in the end, what else is there, really?

    And, last but not least:

    ~  You’re never too old to drive a red convertible. And make it Jaguar.


    In January, 2011, I delivered Shirley’s award speech and presented her with her award as Winters Senior Citizen of the Year, 2010. She was so thrilled! (Photo by Joe DeAngelo)

    Sadly, my Number One Fan didn’t get to read this column devoted just to her, but she knew how fond I was of her. I nominated her for Winters Senior Citizen of the Year in 2010, and when she won, I not only wrote the story about her for the Express, but also delivered her award speech. She was just glowing that night. Overjoyed and sparkling. Her big, wide smile was never bigger or wider.

    When I interviewed her for the story, she told me the key to staying healthy and active was to keep moving.

    “If you sit down in a chair, you’ll just stay there,” she said.

    How bittersweet and ironic that she passed while sitting in a chair.

    On many occasions, I’ve thought, “When I get old, I want to be like Shirley — wacky, carefree, living to please no one but myself, and having a good time regardless of what anyone thinks.” But now, I’m thinking, “When I die, I want to go like Shirley — the smell of baking brownies wafting around me, filled with the joy and anticipation of visiting with a friend… no pain or fear, no trepidation… just sit down, take a breath and then… soar, soar away… leaving behind a trail of smiles, sparkles and sequins.”

    I will miss you, Shirley. But dang, I’m glad I knew you.


    Shirley Marks born ??? — passed away Sept. 26, 2013. Gone, but never forgotten.
    (Photo by Debra DeAngelo, December 2010)

      • Sadie

      • September 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm
      • Reply

      A brilliant tribute, Debra. Thank you. She thought the world of you and I’m glad you knew that.

      • Aww, Sadie. So sorry to see her go, but wow. What a character. What a joyful person, until the very last minute. I talked with the police chaplain who stayed with her after they found her. He told me the brownies weren’t burnt… he took them to the post office and shared them with the postal workers. That is so poignant.
        And yes… I knew she was my Number One Fan! Thanks for taking the time to comment. She will be missed. I still can’t quite believe she’s gone.

      • Maya North

      • September 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm
      • Reply

      I think I’m in love — with both of you. Thank you so much for sharing with all who would not have had the chance to know her (distance) the marvel and miracle that was Shirley. Big and tender hugs…

    • What a beautiful lady! How lucky for you to have known her & have her as a number one fan! It’s a shame she couldn’t have enjoyed a brownie first. I want to bake a batch of brownies in memory of your friend. I’ll ask a friend over to enjoy them with me. Bless you & good friends too.
      P.S. Add me to your list of fans.

      • I think if we ALL baked a batch of brownies to remember her, that would be fabulous! And… thank you for joining the list. 🙂

    • I agree about her life lessons and also so happy she died with the smell of brownies and no anticipation of the end. What a life and what a way to go. I want to be just like her as well. Beautiful tribute.

    • Just beautiful. On every level.

      • Kelvin

      • September 30, 2013 at 3:39 pm
      • Reply

      I just had to revisit this and read it again. Just a beautiful, moving tribute. Loved the advice. The life lessons are wonderful. I used to drive a convertible. Ahhhh…takes me back. You brought her alive to those of us that didn’t have the pleasure to know her. Definitely not forgotten.

    • Deb,
      Great story. I miss her very much.
      There will never be another Shirley Marks. God rest her soul.
      Michelle Reece

      • Betty Ann Carrion-Ireland

      • October 2, 2013 at 9:11 pm
      • Reply

      Great job Debra,
      Knowing Shirley most of my life, I will miss her phone calls and her “Betty Ann”,I baby sat her children and he cared for my Mom, loved her a whole bunch. P

      • Betty Ann, that is what I will miss the most – hearing her say “Debra.” Like a command, at the beginning of every phone call. I will remember her voice forever. What a pistol she was, right to the last moment.

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