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Remembering Shirley May Lamb

Shirley Lamb left a legacy in her will to Cowichan Women Against Violence Society. Her partner Sharon Andersen wrote the following story of Shirley's life. We thought people might like to know the woman who wanted to support our anti-violence work.

I offer you this information so that you know Shirley – the person. She would never brag about her accomplishments, but I have the opportunity and honor of being able to do so now. This is the person who remembered you in her Will. . .

Shirley May Lamb was born February 28, 1934 in Montreal Quebec. She was the only child born to Ada and David Lamb. Her Mother died when Shirley was 19, a loss she felt for her entire life. She and her Dad worked together to make ends meet. Her Dad worked on the railroad and Shirley worked as a switchboard operator. Shirley was an activist from an early age.  As a young teen living in Notre Dame de Grace (NDG), Montreal she spoke out against racial discrimination. She was a youth leader in the Anglican Church and resigned when racial riots broke out in the community and the church remained silent about discrimination.

Although Shirley did not have an easy life, she remained optimistic and genuinely concerned about the welfare of others. She was a Canadian Girl Guide Leader because she wanted to give support to young girls who sought it in the Guides. She served as the Drama & Musicals Assistant to Youth in the Union United Church in Montreal and as Youth Counsellor in the Negro Community Centre, Montreal. As a Youth Worker at Tell It Like It Is, Shirley was involved in helping others with drug education and public awareness. She established the Montreal Day Nursery where she organized and scheduled a free store and wrote a newsletter for young & poor mothers.  She was a Youth Worker and managed public relations and drug education at Para-Pro Drug Education & Aid. She was an amateur Theatre Performer for the Matchbox Theatre in Lasalle, Quebec. There, she developed and performed presentations for the community. She and her friends reached out to psychiatric patients in Douglas Hospital, involving them in co-creating musical productions one of which was Jesus Christ Super Star.

Shirley was always a free-spirit. Shirley hitchhiked from Montreal to Vancouver in the 1970’s along with her buddy, Randy, one of the Vietnam draft evaders she had helped. A smile would cross her lips and she’d sing along to Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby Magee recounting the trip. They had little money and ended up living with a group of other hippies in a driftwood hut on Long Beach. Whenever someone was “lost” or in need, Shirley would invite them in. She’d talk of her escaped Hare Krishna friend and a young pregnant woman who both took shelter in that hut watched over by Shirley. From Long Beach, her friends and she settled in in New Westminster, BC living the Hippie lifestyle that she spoke of fondly. She became “Mama Shirl” because of her resourcefulness in stretching a dollar to feed everyone. Shirley was also a talented person in many ways: an accomplished skiier; a champion competitive swimmer; clothing designer and baker. She never let her health concerns keep her from having fun or from helping others. She was a giving, loving kind person.

Shirley became the Assistant Coordinator at Togetherness Crisis Centre, where she organized the Free Store, and became a Training Program Instructor, Live-In Resource Person, and part of the Flying Squad. She was an Interim Coordinator and Program instructor at Life-Line Crisis Centre in Coquitlam where she worked the crisis phone line and was again on the flying squad. In Vancouver she was a collective member of WAVA, a rape counselor, volunteer office worker and public speaker for the organization.  She volunteered at the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, helping women with issues related to doctors. She was a volunteer at the Vancouver Lesbian Center (VLC) where she ran “coming out” groups, organized a lesbian-feminist library, and worked the telephone information and crisis line. Shirley loved working with teens who were considered too troublesome to attend regular schools. She was a supervisor of a group home called KLASS; a child care counselor at KLASS Alternate to School and a Child Care Counselor at S.H.A.F.T. Alternate to School in IoCo.

Shirley co-authored the training materials and led workshops for the Speak-Out Project (Canada Works project) on the prevention of child sexual abuse. One of her favorite projects was working with the Office of the Attorney General on a life skills project held at Porteau Cove for Juvenile Offenders to develop teamwork, self-sufficiency, and confidence through outdoor challenges. She spoke out against a judge who ruled a child brought on her own attack by dressing provocatively, marched in Take Back the Night events, and addressed the needs of seniors in a public forum led by Jean Crowder. Shirley had a rare talent for engaging people in transformative learning without them realizing their beliefs were being challenged. It was this talent coupled with her genuine concern for others and compassionate listening that made her very successful effecting positive change. Sometimes humour was called for and she’d create a costume to draw attention to some social injustice.

Shirley was interviewed about her lifestyle as a lesbian feminist and the story was printed in a Vancouver paper. She became the person on a poster displayed at Vancouver bus stops highlighting the diversity in lesbian and gay lives as a woman of size, subjected to body-shaming, and also as a lesbian living with physical disabilities.

Shirley did a lot of good for others because she saw people in need and wanted to help them, but Shirley was a free spirit and lived her life true to her beliefs. She didn’t have money and didn’t have a lot of “stuff”. She lived most of her life in low-income housing and relied upon her strong work ethic, creativity and resourcefulness to remain independent. This became a challenge when she became disabled and could no longer work. Her health deteriorated from chronic illnesses and then she was struck with blindness from macular degeneration. With all these factors working against her, Shirley remained her optimistic self, still reaching out to help others even while struggling to see and was saddled with carting around an oxygen tank. She had friends and she had goodness and a lifelong desire to help others in need. She displayed a love of life that is characteristic of those entering old age – The Happiness U-Curve, where the joy in life comes from things others have not yet learned to appreciate. Shirley succumbed to deliberate physician mismanagement on October 31, 2015. Her doctor blocked her access to care and withheld treatment stating she was ‘too much of a drain on the health care budget’. Tragic but true that women are vulnerable from birth to death.

On September 20, 2016 Shirley was placed with her Mother and Father in Hawthorne-Dale Cemetery, Pointe Aux Tremble, Montreal. A Ceremony of Life followed the burial. She would have been so pleased to have seen that in addition to her family and me (her life partner and friend), the mourners included skiing buddies from 70 years ago, and her hippie friends now seniors themselves.

Shirley wanted to help Cowichan WAVA. She would be so happy today to have been able to be here herself to share what she had to make life better for women of all ages.

Sharon Andersen

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