Shirley Hemphill Jessup, 91, of Topsham, Maine, passed away on November 11. She died peacefully, knowing the loving presence of her family. Shirley’s vibrancy, wit, and laughter will surely enhance the heavenly chorus, of which she is now a member.
Shirley was born on September 22, 1930, in New York, New York, to Katharine and Meredith Hemphill of Spring Lake, New Jersey. She graduated from Manasquan High School and then from Vassar College, where she studied early childhood education. Shirley worked at the patent office, and taught preschool and kindergarten. She met her husband at a Vassar roommate’s wedding, when Harlan Jessup of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, was a groomsman. They married on November 24, 1956. Shirley and Harlan raised four children: James, Jennifer, Benjamin, and Susan.
The family lived in Syracuse, New York, before settling in Newtown, where Shirley and Harlan lived for forty-seven years. Shirley never returned to full-time teaching, engaged in caring for her own active family. Shirley was always a contributing member of her church family as well, learning hymns on the piano, supporting community events, and opening her heart to others in need.
Shirley grew up with the sound of the waves, and even when living inland, she remained an ocean girl. She returned with her children and grandchildren innumerable times to the Atlantic shore, sharing her joy in salt water swimming, playing in the sand, and looking for treasures along the tide. Shirley also joined her husband in his love for the mountains and woods of New England. Outings always included preparing picnics and snacks, bug spray and sunscreen, and Shirley gamely took on the responsibility of remembering (or the blame of forgetting) all the details.
With a bright mind, Shirley took delight in the gift of language. She often created rhymes for special occasions, marking birthdays with a limerick or making new verses of favorite songs. She loved a good pun, a word game, or a clever joke, and was always gratified by the shared laughter of a perfect delivery. She savored new words, lingering on syllables that tickled her taste buds.
Shirley often sang as she worked in the kitchen, using hymns to fit her mood. She played her guitar and sang to her children as they grew, instilling a fondness for music. She taught piano to her daughters and others. Her creative play with children, celebrating their budding artwork and engaging in their stories, brightened many young lives. In the evenings she would return to the piano, and through hundreds of repetitions, her family has Hanon’s scale exercises and Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante embedded in their soundscapes.
Ever with several bookmarks tucked into various books, Shirley was continually learning. She studied from her Bible in the early mornings. Her penciled notes fill the margins of her study books, and her letters to others often included a final postscript sentence squeezed into the remaining space on the page. Shirley constantly worked on edits in her own life as well, seeking to learn from every challenge. She was never finished with anything, earnestly working on remembering or organizing the many ideas she cherished. Willingly laughing at her own shortcomings, Shirley was never too old, even in her nineties, to become and grow.
Shirley was preceded in death by her parents, Meredith and Katharine; her sister, Jean; and her brothers, Meredith and Kent.
She is survived by her husband, Harlan, of 65 years; her four children and their families, Jim Jessup of Huntington Beach, Calif., Jennie Kelly of Valdez, Alaska, Ben Jessup of Middlesex, Vt., and Susan Caldwell of West Gardiner, Maine. Her seven loving grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews, will remember her with affection.
A service will be held at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Maine, in the spring of 2022, where her ashes will be returned to the earth.