Shirley Bill Hester Schell
1924 - 2020
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Shirley Bill Hester Schell

Cambridge, MA - Shirley Bill Hester Schell, 95, died at home in Cambridge, MA on August 14, 2020. She lived a life dedicated to education and justice, as attested by drawers of correspondence from former students whose lives she changed.

Shirley was born on September 19, 1924 in Mexia, Texas to Charles Wesley Hester and Florence Clemons Hester, the second of four children: Virginia, Charles, Jr. and Patricia. The Hesters ran a photography business documenting the early days of the Texas oil boom.

From an early age, Shirley took a stand against injustice. In high school, when she was invited to join the honor society and her close friend, a Native American and straight-A student, was not, Shirley declined.

The US entered World War II just as Shirley was graduating high school. She moved to Washington, DC, and joined the War Department, first in the typing pool and later as the secretary for an Air Force colonel.

After the war, she attended college at Oklahoma A & M. She cut her studies short to marry Richard Floyd Schell in 1947. They moved to New Jersey where Suzanna was born in 1948, and settled near Doylestown, PA. William was born in 1952, followed by Mary Ann Hester in 1955.

Shirley longed to complete her college education, and in 1958 enrolled in summer school at the University of Oklahoma. Her children remember the three-day car trips from Pennsylvania, breaking into the song "Oklahoma" as they crossed the state line. After graduating in 1961 she began a lifelong career in education.

Shirley and Richard divorced in 1964, and she pursued her master's in education at the University of Delaware, while teaching eighth-grade English.

She taught English in the University of Delaware's summer Upward Bound program for talented minority students. One of her students recalled how meeting her when he was 14 years old changed his life.

With her master's, her goal was to become a principal, but gender discrimination was rampant and there were no women principals in the area schools.

Shirley finally landed a job at the newly established Delaware Technical and Community College (Del Tech) as the director of related studies, teaching English and overseeing the academic faculty.

When Shirley learned that Del Tech was paying the male technical faculty a much higher rate than the female faculty, she challenged the college. She joined faculty in a lawsuit claiming salary discrimination, and was fired. She sued and the Delaware branch of the National Education Association took her case—and won—a landmark case in teachers' rights to organize for fair compensation. Her job was restored along with a settlement.

She used her settlement to attend law school. In 1978, she graduated from Temple University Law School, which she attended at night, while working full time at Del Tech.

In summer 1982, she taught English in Taiwan and, two years later, in Wuhan, China. All of her classes were in the morning, but the Chinese students were required to attend all day. When she learned of this, she created additional programs on American history and the Constitution.

After retiring in 1989, Shirley worked as a volunteer lawyer for ACLU in Delaware, where she was instrumental in forcing the State to allow children whose families were homeless to be able to attend school wherever they were living.

In 2001, Shirley relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts to be closer to her daughter, Suzanna and granddaughter, Lucina. She died peacefully at home after being visited virtually and in-person by her family and many neighbors and friends, and with her daughter Suzanna by her side.

She is survived by her children Suzanna, William (Rosemary Palmeri), and Mary Ann Hester, granddaughter Lucina Schell (Marc), brother-in-law John R. Thompson, and many nieces and nephews.

A Celebration of Shirley's Life will take place on Saturday, September 19, via Zoom. For more information please contact:

Please consider a donation to the American Civil Liberties Fund of Delaware:

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The News Journal from Sep. 16 to Sep. 17, 2020.
Celebration of Life
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2 entries
September 17, 2020
I was a neighbor On E. Park Place. I have some memories of Susanna and Billy I am now 75. I always thought your mom with some thing of a character as a teenager. In 1968 while starting graduate school I became an instructor at Dell tech where I Again met Shirley. I was them 23 and she would’ve been 43. We were both single. I had a crush on her. I tried to get her to go out with me she was older and wiser and wouldn’t do it even though we did like each other. I learned so much more about her from reading the obituary she always had a lot of spunk a lot of caring a lot of energy. I am sorry for your loss but I’m very happy that She had such a long and interesting life and was able to be with her family for many many years
Joe Brothers
September 16, 2020
Enjoyed many meals with Shirley at Suzanna’s and her last birthday (photo). Breakfast with Shirley meant endless coffee with two newspapers -Globe + Times -while she assessed the sky for sufficient quantities of blue. It had to be blue! We knew breakfast was over when she got up to return to her home down the hall then recited her version of classic poem that challenged us with “I was in paradise, but they threw me out”. Go not gentle into that good night, Shirley: we’re holding you in the Light. Isn’t that paradise?
Erica H. Adams
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