Shirley has the honor of being the first woman of inspiration featured on this site. Why? Well, because without her, I would not be here and Femmepowered would not exist. She is my grandma, whom I have always referred to as Nana. She birthed my mom, who then birthed me, so I literally would not be here if it weren’t for her.


When I think of her story, I feel nothing but pure love for her. I’m also in awe of her. You’ll know why by the end of reading this.


Shirley was born in Viking, Alberta on April 22, 1938 to her mother Effie, and her father Frank. She was the second oldest, having one older sister (Ellen), one younger sister (Valerie), and four younger brothers (Frank, Ronnie, Glen, and Kevin). Most of her childhood was spent in rural Alberta, with a few years spent in Ontario as her father was posted there with the Canadian military. Once his contract was finished, the family returned to Alberta, where she still lives today. 


Frank and Effie


Shirley (3rd from the left), her parents, and three of her siblings

She has always spoken fondly of her childhood, sharing that she came from two extremely compassionate, loving, and accepting parents. She remembers attending school in a rural schoolhouse and swimming in ponds that parents today would not even think about letting their kids into. She has memories of her dad drinking lots of tea and always listening to BBC on the radio, as he traveled by boat to Canada from England when he was 17 years old. One of her favourite spots in the house was on his lap. Without a doubt, she was a daddy’s girl.


Shirley and her dad


Shirley (far right), her sister Ellen (far left), and her brother Frank

Growing up on the farm was not easy by any means. She explained that it was hard work helping to care for her five younger siblings, as well as to help with all the farm chores. Nowadays, most people couldn’t imagine living in a small farmhouse, usually with eight people at a time, but her memories are happy. It was a simple time when less was more and the love didn’t run out.


Shirley was a career woman. At 17 years old she left Viking and moved to Calgary to attend nursing school (you did not need to complete grade 12 at that time to pursue nursing; oh how times have changed). She finished nursing school and returned to Viking where she worked in the local hospital. Most women did not pursue further education at this time, so this shows how intelligent and driven she has always been.


I think this is an appropriate time to share a juicy romance story. Prior to leaving for nursing school, Shirley had a boyfriend. In fact, they were together for about three years and were even engaged to be married. That came to a screeching halt when Shirley met Ron, my Papa, who just happened to look like Elvis when he was younger. At the time, he was working for CN telegraphs in Viking. When Shirley met him, he and a friend were on their way to a dance that she and her friend wanted to go to. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) her fella didn’t dance and he was too busy working on his family’s farm. So naturally, she did what any sane person would do. She hopped in the car with two complete strangers and off to the dance they went. In her words, they danced the whole night, which led to them seeing each other again, a few days later. Now, living in a small town is much like social media: news spreads like wildfire, even quicker when it’s scandalous. Shirley’s fiance confronted her about spending time with another man, and they understandably had a heated argument. She tried to break off their relationship and in response, he threatened to take a whole bottle of Aspirin. Like the strong woman she is who doesn’t bend to manipulation, she broke it off anyway and gave him back his ring.  


Shirley and Ron, August 19, 1958


From left to right: Janice, Larry, Charlene

Ron eventually had to leave Viking as his job involved endless travel. Shirley kept in touch with him through letters, but they saw each other when they were able to. They were together for about a year when they got married in August 1958. They had their first baby, my mom Charlene, in January 1959. You can do the math ;). Their second baby, my uncle Larry, was born 363 days after my mom. At this time, they moved to Edmonton and Shirley returned to work as a night nurse at the General Hospital; Charlene was 16 months old and Larry was 4 months old. As they were both working full time, she and Ron hired a nanny for six hours per day to help out around the house and with the children. Their third child, my auntie Janice, was born in 1962. After Janice was born, Shirley stayed home with the children until Janice started grade one. At this time, she took a nursing position at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, where she stayed until her retirement in 1999. A fun fact about Shirley is that she and Ron had a DJing company from 1977 to 1991 as well. They also helped to raise a total of 42 foster children throughout the years. This amazing woman did it all and is a perfect example of how women can have fulfilling careers AND be mothers, simultaneously.


Shirley working at the Glenrose Hospital

Shirley has lived a life full of great memories that have helped to shape her, from summers spent camping with her kids, and traveling to the United States almost every year as an adult, to meeting her grandchildren (Bryan, Britnee, and Billie Jean), and great-grandchildren (Dominic, Ava, and James). However, as we know, it is not only the happy experiences that build a person. The sad and tragic experiences shape us just as much, if not more.


She has experienced more loss than anyone I know. I will not go into detail about each one, because that is deeply personal. However, to paint a brief picture, Shirley lost her father in a tractor accident when she was 21 years old. If you remember, their father-daughter bond was exceptionally strong. Her mother passed away unexpectedly at the age of 61; it was Shirley’s 39th birthday. In 1990, her son Larry died at the age of 30. In 2004, she lost the love of her life, my papa Ron, after over 40 years of marriage. Six months later, her daughter, my mom Charlene passed away unexpectedly at the age of 45. Shirley’s oldest sister, her best friend, died in 2010. She lost her younger brother Ronnie in November 2019. More recently, her grandson Bryan, my big brother, died unexpectedly in April 2020. You may have noticed that I used the word “unexpectedly” several times. This is because most of these deaths were unexpected, and they were not timely. Many of these people were far too young. While death is hard at any age, how do you move forward after losing not one, but two of your children, and a grandchild? These types of losses are unbearable, but Shirley has not given up and has always been the first person to console others before herself. She is the ultimate vision of strength and courage.


Besides emotional pain, she has also suffered from severe pain, for as far back as I can remember. Yet, I have rarely heard her complain. No matter how much she is hurting physically or emotionally, she manages to find parts of life, big or small, to be joyful about. She has told me many times that as long as she has a healthy mind and can see her family, she does not want to die. This woman has the most concrete will of anyone that I have ever met, truly.


To go through what seems like endless tragedies and come out full of love and light, is a gift in itself. It is not every day that we are blessed to know such people, people who are full of positivity and hope regardless of the circumstances. I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world to have a nana as intelligent, compassionate, hard-working, kind, loving, and supportive as she is. I often hope that I can hone some of these amazing qualities as my life progresses.


Shirley on my wedding day, October 8, 2016

I could go on forever about my precious nana, but time is limited. I will say that it has been an absolute joy to be her granddaughter. I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world, even if she is a little stubborn sometimes. 

Nana, thank you for teaching me how to be a good person, and for showing me the meaning of endless, unconditional love. You may not know it, but you have changed many peoples’ lives for the better, mine included. Thank you for letting me tell your story. I love you.

The Grandchildren

Bryan, born in 1978


Britnee, born in 1990


Billie Jean, born in 2001

The Great-Grandchildren

Dominic, born in 2005


Ava, born in 2017


James, born in 2019