Long time Juneau resident and attorney Shirley F. Meuwissen Kohls died peacefully Sunday evening, August 25, after a lengthy battle against cancer, surrounded by family members and friends who were singing "You Are My Sunshine" to her. She was 88.
At her request, no services will be held. Her ashes will be spread at a later date near her home at Tenakee Springs.
Shirley was born July 14, 1925, and raised in Chaska, Minnesota, with six siblings. She started her entrepreneurial career at the age of 11 as a newspaper carrier, and was a person of many talents and interests. In 1945, at the age of 19, she joined the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the FAA) as a radio/traffic control operator, working for the next 11 years in Alaska in Anchorage and Kodiak before transferring to Juneau in 1947.
In 1956 Shirley left Alaska briefly to enroll in the University of Colorado, where she received a BA in political science in 1959 and then a law degree in June 1961. She returned to Juneau and, after a short period on the staff of the Legislative Council, Shirley became a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice John Dimond, serving from November 1961 to June 1963. In January 1962, Shirley passed the Alaska Bar exam, being the only female to do so that year. Shirley received her 50-year pin as a member of the Alaska Bar Association at the 2012 state convention in Anchorage.
She joined Gladys Stabler and Doug Gregg in June 1963 to form the law firm of Stabler, Gregg and Meuwissen. After she married Frederick F. Kohls (now deceased) in February 1966, the firm's name was changed to Stabler, Gregg and Kohls.
In December 1973 Shirley left the firm to open her own general solo practice, where over the past 40 years she represented three generations of some families. She had begun to ease out of the practice of law to spend time at her home in Tenakee Springs, fishing, playing cards, socializing, and occasionally cleaning halibut for friends. Shirley was an avid poker player and was a two-time champion of the Alaska Bar convention's annual poker tournament.
Shirley thoroughly enjoyed life in Alaska. In her earlier years she was an ardent skier and a member of the Juneau Ski Patrol. For many years she had a cabin, first on Lena Point and later on Spuhn Island (of which she was part owner), from both of which she was able to enjoy years of boating and fishing with family and friends. She served as president of the Juneau Bar Association, the Juneau Concert Association, and was a member of many other legal and civic groups.
In March 2001, Shirley was honored at a reception for her contributions to the practice of law and to the community and state in general. Then Supreme Court Justice Bud Carpeneti said, "I learned a lot from her about how to practice (law), especially with regard to how lawyers could be vigorous advocates for their clients while at the same time maintaining good relations with each other." He described Shirley as "just one of the neatest people anyone would want to know. She embodies all the virtues that come to my mind when people talk of 'the good old days': common sense, hard work, a helping hand to anyone in need, quiet competence, a strong sense of the common good."
Shirley was preceded in death by her parents, Paul and Mary Helen "Mae" Meuwissen; Her husband Fred; their son, Kevin, who died in 1983 at the age of 15 from a cancerous brain tumor; and her brothers, Kenneth Meuwissen, Robert Meuwissen, and Thomas Meuwissen.
She is survived by her brother, LaMont Meuwissen of Sun Lake, AZ; sisters, Suzanne Wathen of Pipestone, MN, and Mary Jane (Michael ) Mohlin of Belle Plaine, MN; numerous nieces and nephews in the Midwest; and many close friends in Juneau, Tenakee Springs, and other places in Alaska.
In lieu of flowers, Shirley asked that contributions be made to the Juneau Public Libraries, 292 Marine Way, Juneau, AK 99801, in memory of Kevin Meuwissen Kohls.
In honor of Shirley, her family is putting together a book of her life. Please email your memory or story to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in The Juneau Empire on Aug. 29, 2013