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Obituary of Shirley Kiser
You left me Nov. 27 after 43 years of a deeply fulfilling marriage. This letter is to you, to thank you.
You grew up in the western Pennsylvania town of Tarentum, where you said you seldom saw the sky because it was obscured by industrial smoke. I grew up in Gila Bend, one of the sunniest spots in the nation, where we were thankful when clouds obscured the hot sky. Your parents ran a confectionary store and then a dry goods store. My father was a teacher in a two-room school on what was then the Gillespie Ranch. You came to Tucson in 1959 on your way to San Francisco, but you fell in love with the desert and decided to stay. I grew up in the desert and came to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. You loved drama and had leading roles in plays during your college years. My biggest college accomplishment was getting over a lisp my sophomore year that turned every “s” into “sh” and caused me to pronounce my name as Jamesh Kisher. You were beautiful, sophisticated, and outgoing. I was introverted and naïve. You had two children, Madeline and Lisa. I had none.
We met as English teachers at Sunnyside High School, where you were a creative teacher the students all loved. Our first date, years later after I had left teaching and we both had gone through divorces, we met for drinks. You charmed me by pulling out a list of topics to talk about to ensure our conversation wouldn’t drag.
People might think such sharp differences in backgrounds and temperaments would have created a rocky marriage. But we never had even a moderately serious disagreement about religion, politics, ethics, money, child-rearing or where we would live. Somehow two very different people who approached life in very different ways found what they needed in each other.
Your career evolved from being a teacher to running nonprofit agencies, and you did so in three cities: Des Moines, Iowa (where we moved for my job right after we married), Phoenix and Tucson. In Des Moines, without a background in running an organization or in health care, you took over a failing, deep-in-debt home health care agency. By the time we left Des Moines six years later, you had dramatically increased the number of homebound and elderly people receiving in-home-meals and health care. You did that even as you increased pay and benefits for the employees. Moreover, you left the agency with no debt, a substantial financial cushion, and a statewide reputation. I may have an MBA from Stanford, but you were the one with instinctive executive abilities.
Career was very important to you, but you never lost sight of the qualities that make life worth living. To me your greatest quality was your boundless, all-encompassing love, which you revealed in ways small and large.
You made sure to offer cookies, water, or lunch to workers making repairs at our house. You had an eye for people who might be standing back or who might feel uncomfortable in a situation, and you made sure that they felt seen and heard.
As our four grandchildren – Lilly, Gabe, Joshua, and Rachel – were becoming young adults and traveling or living away, you charmed them by sending emails telling them how many days and hours before they would return. You tracked their flights until they landed.
To my amazement, you once told an interviewer you would have waited 1,000 lifetimes for me.
Most important to me, however, was the tremendous gift you gave me when I adopted Madeline and Lisa and your daughters became my daughters, too. I cannot imagine the amount of love that would allow a mother to share her daughters with another person.
Everybody you met sensed your love for life, respected your keen mind, and listened when you offered opinions and ideas. You spread joyful radiance and gracious strength. Here are some ways others have characterized you: With a loving heart, fierce love of family, smart as a whip, stubborn, driven, devoted, funny, loyal, generously hospitable, brilliant, persistent, always ready for meaningful conversation, dedicated to the common good.
You loved our community, and the desert it sits within. You delighted in the way the shape and colors of the Catalina Mountains changed with the time of day or time of year. Your favorite month was October, with its cooler days and warmer sunlight.
Since you have left us, none of our lives will ever be as rich as you made them.
If people feel moved to donate in your name, I know you would want the donation to go to Planned Parenthood, which you supported all your life because of your great love for life. As you requested, services will be held only for your family – and with the mariachis you so loved.
You are constantly with me. Numerous times each day I want to turn and talk to you, to tell you about little things that have happened or I have read. I miss you more than you could imagine.
I love you.
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