In peace and surrounded by love, Shirley Daisy O’Donnell passed after a brief illness on September 16, 2020 at her home in Kitchener, Ontario with her daughter Shelagh, son Kevin and foster daughter Sheryl by her side. Shirley was a force of nature who embraced life fully throughout her 92 years, making a lasting impact on countless others.
In Frank Capra’s film It’s A Wonderful Life, the hero is guided by an angel to witness how other’s lives would have unfolded had he not existed. The scene could play out in much the same way with Shirley as the heroine. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the Great Depression, Shirley learned from her father Charles Pickrell and foster parents Ray and Daisy Rusk that no matter the circumstance, there was always enough to help someone in need. As a young girl, she regularly travelled across Canada - a perk of Ray’s CPR career. She lived her life by the simple motto – “if you have helped change even one person’s life for the better, yours will have been a success.” There was always a place at the table, an open door and a bed for anyone who needed it. Even as a single mother, her home was always a safe harbour for many at a cross-roads in their life. She was loving grandmother to Ella, Kiara, and Vinton.
At 21 years of age, she married high school sweetheart Alan Cook, a tail gunner in WWII. With a love of music and a natural affinity for dance, she worked as a ballroom dance instructor, model, and advertising agency assistant. Her striking fashion sense and “one-pin Gibson Girl” hairstyle were iconically “Shirley”. As a sought-after executive assistant, skilled in the art of short hand and speed typing, Toronto beckoned in the 1950s. Her successful career included working with the Ontario Road Builders Association, Peat Marwick & Associates (KPMG), Warner Brothers Pictures, and Sayvette corporate. Her sharp legal mind made her a natural to run the criminal law office and mayoral campaign of her second husband, Francis Leo O’Donnell, while working as a court reporter and transcriptionist.
Last month, Shirley was able to visit her beloved Christian Island, where she played an integral role for five decades. Her pioneer spirit was given free reign every summer as she thrived without running water or electricity at her historic square-hewn log cabin. Through her work as Cottagers Association President, she forged lasting bonds between the cottage community and Beausoleil First Nation, was Founder and Editor of The Islander, led numerous environmental initiatives including the Dunes Preservation Project as well as many joint social events – always with the goal of creating one shared island community.
A natural leader with a resilient and entrepreneurial spirit, Shirley lived life with buoyant confidence and optimism, often saying “you may not know where it will lead, but there’s always another door ready to open.” She nimbly moved through numerous enterprises including founding show dog and breeding kennel Snow Leopard Dalmatians, creating and leading the Arthritis Society’s Move to the Music aqua fit program at Bayview and Centenary hospitals, and working as a certified international Colours Consultant. Dogs were always her weak spot. From countless rescues to show dogs, she was never without one in her life.
Her inherent elegance, grace, intelligence, humour and infectious smile were as present as ever as the page turned on her last chapter.
A celebration of life will be planned for a later date.
Messages and condolences may be left for the family at www.tricitycremations.com or 519.772.1237