Virginia K. Shirley

November 17, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Ginger and Dave Shirley renewed their wedding vows this past summer on their 38th anniversary, July 14. Deacon Clifford Steward, the grandfather of their daughter-in-law Sarah Shirley, performed the renewal of vows at Camp Harding Park.
Submitted photo

BIG POOL, Md. — When Virginia “Ginger” Shirley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer more than two years ago, she had been fighting other medical issues for more than a decade. This time, after surgery, she pulled out a pencil and paper and wrote letters to her husband and three children.

Those letters remained in sealed envelopes in the possession of Ginger’s sister Edie Cunningham of Greencastle, Pa., who delivered them in person the day before Ginger’s funeral.

David “Dave” Shirley was married to Ginger for 38 years and marveled at how she always thought of others before herself. He said that in his letter, Ginger wrote of concern for him and her everlasting love, ending the message with their names written inside a heart with an arrow.

“She’d give you the shirt off her back. She was always thinking of other people,” Dave said.

Ginger’s medical history included three kidney transplants, with a successful battle with breast cancer in between. Next was surgery to remove her gall bladder and numerous hospitalizations for kidney and urinary tract infections, Dave said.

“She was a strong woman. She amazed a lot of people with her strength,” Dave said.

Then came the diagnosis of ovarian cancer in July 2010. She was in and out of Meritus Medical Center and University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, with trips to Baltimore every two weeks for chemotherapy.

“No matter how she felt or how sick she was, if she knew you were sick, she was there for you,” Edie said.

Ginny had a blanket made with a family photo and that blanket went with Ginger every time she was hospitalized.

“She cherished that. She took it everywhere with her,” Dave said.

“She’s being buried with it,” daughter Sonya Mauck of Hedgesville, W.Va., said.

Boxing gloves signed by the family reminding her to keep fighting also went to the hospital with Ginger.

For years, the family Christmas was celebrated on New Year’s Day, because Ginger would be sick on Christmas. She often missed birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations because she was in the hospital, Sonya said.

Skype on a computer allowed Ginger “to have the best seat in the house” for one of her grandchildren’s high school graduations in June, Sonya said.

Despite her failing health, daughter-in-law Sarah Shirley of Hagerstown said camping was one thing Ginger wouldn’t give up.

She often would take some of the eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 18 to 3, to McCoy’s Ferry for two weeks at a time, returning home to “trade ’em out” for the other grandchildren, Dave said. This summer, she had Dave put the camper up in the backyard so the tradition could continue.

Not one to sit still, Ginger worked off and on at the deli and bakery at Martin’s Food Market on Wesel Boulevard, as her health allowed. She continued to cook, garden, camp and fish.

When confined to a hospital bed, Ginger became a prolific knitter and crocheter, a productive way to pass the time. Her daughters, Ginny Anderson of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Sonya, estimate Ginger made 40 to 50 blankets for family, friends, doctors and nurses in the past few years.

“The last transplant, that’s when she really got into knitting,” Sonya said.

Each blanket was made in favorite colors or team colors. A diehard Baltimore Ravens fan, Ginger made a blanket for one of her doctors in Baltimore, a fellow Ravens fan.

“That kept her occupied. That and the dogs,” said Dave. The couple have two Maltese and one Morkie, a Maltese-Yorkshire Terrier mix.

Ginger’s beloved Ravens won in the last four seconds of the last game she got to see. Her favorite player was quarterback Joe Flacco.

Ginny and Sarah were Pittsburgh Steelers fans and Ginger loved to rub it in when her team won and theirs didn’t. When the Ravens lost, though, Ginger wouldn’t answer their phone calls.

“She made us promise not to burn her Ravens stuff,” Sarah said. 

Ginger and Dave have known each most of their lives.

“We go clean back to second, third, fourth grade. We started dating in ninth or 10th grade and we’ve been together ever since,” Dave said.

Both 1974 Williamsport High School graduates, they got married on July 14, 1974, not long after their high school graduation. Knowing how sick Ginger was, the couple renewed their vows and celebrated with family and friends on their 38th anniversary this summer.

A month later, the family saw a big decline in Ginger’s health.

The couple lived in Hagerstown, Williamsport and Marlowe, W.Va., moving into their Big Pool home in March 2011.

Growing up in Williamsport and Halfway, Ginger, who didn’t like the name Virginia, was the fifth of six sisters. Their father was a tree trimmer.

Edie, a year older, said Ginger loved to climb trees. The older sisters would make Ginger sneak out with them on Friday nights, climbing down the TV antenna. One night, Ginger stepped on a board that alerted their father to their departure.

“She was daring. If she couldn’t do it, she’d at least try,” Edie said.

As a kid, Ginger loved fishing and gardening and looked forward to the summer program in a Williamsport park, where she enjoyed making baskets. She was crowned FFA queen in 1974.

Her talents included floral design and she arranged the flowers “for every wedding she know about,” Edie said.

“She had a knack for it. She was talented,” Sarah said.

Childhood favorites included Shirley Temple and Elvis Presley movies and Felix the Cat cartoons, Edie said. Sonya remembers her mother’s love for the music of Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley and said Ginger was known for singing “Walking After Midnight” and “Crazy.”

“She was a person you couldn’t stay mad at and she couldn’t stay made at you. She made you laugh,” Edie said.

“If somebody was picking on you at school, she’d take up for you.”

Growing up, Edie said when the family took car trips to Tennessee and Ohio, their mother would take crackers along, because Ginger always got car sick, which continued throughout her life. Dave said she took Dramamine for the trip to Baltimore.

Ginger was “addicted to the Food Network,” Ginny said, especially shows by Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis. She loved to cook and created many of her own recipes, Edie said.

The grandchildren always looked forward to “Nanny’s” peanut butter eggs, and her cakes and pies were family favorites.

“It didn’t matter what it was, she cooked for an army,” Sarah said.

Known for going overboard with Christmas gifts for the grandchildren, the family put Ginger on a budget one year and went shopping with her to limit her spending. They arrived at Dave and Shirley’s home to find the living room covered with gifts as in the past, learning that Ginger had sneaked out on her own to do more shopping.

Ginger was always involved in her children’s and grandchildren’s activities. The last high school football game she went to was at Martinsburg High School this fall to see one of her oldest grandsons on senior night.

“She was always with us, no matter what we wanted to do,” Sonya said.

“You could call her about anything, especially with these grandkids,” Sarah said.

Ginger loved visits to family members that lasted overnight or longer. She’d cook and clean for her children, often in the middle of the night, even when they asked her to relax instead.

Edie said an overnight visit from Ginger meant lots of conversation and sharing secrets.

“Even when she was little, you could tell her a secret and she’d never tell,” Edie said.

It was for all these reasons that the family nominated Ginger for WHAG’s Mother of the Year 2012. Thanks to a Facebook campaign by her family, Ginger won the honor.

“She was surprised until she read the teleprompter,” said son Michael Shirley of Hagerstown.

“She started bawling,” Sonya said. 

Without explanation, the Easter lily Ginger had planted in the yard of their Big Pool home bloomed out of season on the day she died, Sonya said.

Editor’s note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered”  is about Virginia K. Shirley who died Nov. 9 at the age of 57. Her obituary was published in the Nov. 11 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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