Debra Lynn Shirley

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Debra Lynn Shirley died peacefully
at home on September 29th, on a
beautiful autumn afternoon, with her
apple trees full of fruit and her beloved
husband by her side. She was fifty-five
years old. The cause was breast cancer.
She was an educator, an author, a
marvelous actor and a poet of depth
and sensitivity. Independently minded
and socially engaged, she had a curious
mind and a generous spirit, and
possessed an abiding faith in the
transformative power of empathy,
kindness, compassion and love. She
valued faithfulness, loyalty and relationships
above all. She always tried
to see the good in people, and had the
rare ability to talk and relate to just
about anyone, and did, whenever she
got the chance. She could often be
found at the center of a large group of
friends and will be greatly missed by
She was born to Alfred Shirley and
Shirley Hedge Shirley in 1963. She grew
up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge
Mountains in Northeast Georgia. She
lived with her extended family in a
cabin her Grandfather had built, on
the shores of Lake Rabun. They lead a
hardscrabble life full of adversity, but
also soaked in the cultural
tradition of self-reliance,
independence and
rugged practicality of old
Southern Appalachia. It
gave her a profound sense
of home and belonging,
and a powerful empathy
for those who have
struggled in life.
Debra earned her
Bachelor of Fine Arts
in the Professional Acting Program
at East Carolina University. She was
a powerful and versatile artist on
stage, playing a wide range of complex
characters with imagination and wit.
For five years, she was the Administrative
Director of PHAMALy, a theatre
company for people with disabilities,
a position that inspired her personally
and creatively.
Her children's picture book, "Best
Friend on Wheels", was published in
2008 by Albert Whitman & Company,
and is now in it's sixth edition. Her
poetry has been included in Tar River
Poetry, Nimrod International Journal
of Prose and Poetry, The Cortland
Review, Margie Review: The American
Journal of Poetry and many others.
Her play "A Case of
Good Scents" was given
a staged reading by the
Playwright's Showcase
of the Western Region, at
the Arvada Center for the
Arts. Her writing, including
"Almost Home", a
collection of her poetry,
is being archived and is
available online at www.
For the last fourteen years, she was
the Director of Project Prepare, an
after school and summer arts program
for Jefferson County Schools. It was
a position she was well suited to and
gave her great satisfaction. Her task
was to build relationships, wherever
she could, with as many people as
possible, in a diverse and challenging
community school. She was wildly
successful at that and leaves behind
many, many loving friends, neighbors
and colleagues.
She lived in Arvada, Colorado with
her partner and husband of twentyeight
years, Scott H. Johnson, an artist
and furniture maker. Their enduring
love affair produced a daughter, Georgia
Ray Johnson, with whom Debbie
shared an extraordinarily close relationship.
Much like her own mother,
she was a devoted and tireless advocate
and guide for her daughter in life.
She was the finest kind of humanist
role model, and the sun that her family
orbited around. They're shipwrecked
without her, but content in the knowledge
their spirits will be joined in the
afterlife forever.
She was preceded in death by her
parents, but is survived by her husband
and daughter, in-laws Jay (Sandy)
Johnson, and siblings Margie (Lowell)
Rogers, Mike (Carol) Shirley, John
(Michele) Shirley, Kathy Spence, Diane
(Stacey) Jones, many nieces, nephews,
cousins and a very large extended
There was cremation, and a memorial
service and celebration of her life
will be held Saturday, October 13th at
11:00am at Horan & McConaty Funeral
Home in Arvada, Colorado. Debbie
loved wildflowers and the entire
natural world, but in lieu of flowers,
donations may be made, in her name,
to the Community Table of Arvada, or
the .
Saturday September 29, 2018
Funeral Home
Horan & McConaty - Northwest/Arvada
7577 W. 80th Ave.
Arvada, CO 80003
(303) 327-7220
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Published in Colorado Community Newspapers from Oct. 10 to Nov. 9, 2018
bullet Breast Cancer
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