Shirley Birrell

July 19, 1924 – November 5, 2021
It is with great sadness that we announce the peaceful passing of Shirley Eleanor Hopper Birrell (nee Bradfield).
On July 19, 1924, Arthur and Flossie Bradfield welcomed Shirley at McRae’s Nursing Home on Albert Street, Nanaimo. With older brother Albert, she grew up on Milton Street surrounded by a tight community and many Aunts and Uncles. She was an outgoing and dramatic child who enjoyed piano lessons at the Wallace Street Convent and dance lessons with Madge Grey, specializing in highland dance. A talented soprano, Shirley travelled to Vancouver for lessons and performed as a soloist throughout her life. She particularly loved singing the soprano lead in Handel’s Messiah for Easter and Christmas concerts around town.
Shirley was incredibly social and enjoyed an active outdoor life boating, skating, dancing and attending picnics on Newcastle Island with friends. With WWII, her social circle extended with the many events for soldiers based in Camp Nanaimo. Following a church service, one soldier approached her asking to walk her home. After a rocky opening and wartime courtship, that soldier, Alec Hopper, returned to Nanaimo and married Shirley in 1946.
Hard work was integral in Shirley’s life. At 14, she started work in her Uncle’s jewelry store (Harding’s) learning the business from the ground up. Following the war, her new husband used his VA grant to go to watchmakers school. The couple then bought Thorneycroft’s Jewelry Store on Commercial Street, renaming it “Hopper’s”. They became active members in the city’s business community and were instrumental in starting the Nanaimo City Centre Association – predecessor to the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association.
Shirley served as President of the Soroptomist Club of Nanaimo and worked alongside Alec who was the Kiwanis Club’s Lt. Governor. She was very proud of the work her Soroptomist Club did with Kiwanis and 14 other organizations to develop, fundraise for, build and run the Kiwanis Village which supports low income seniors. From the day the idea was conceived until she died, Shirley remained a committed volunteer, supporter and patron of Kiwanis Village run by the Nanaimo District Senior Citizens Housing Development Society (NDSCHDS).
Alec and Shirley were a dynamic pair throughout their marriage of over 40 years. In 1975, their son, Ron, returned to Nanaimo and joined them in the family business, working together until Alec’s death in 1987. In 1990, Shirley married David Birrell, and they travelled extensively for many years. From India and Portugal to Scotland and Arizona, they were always on the go, returning to their home at the Beacon until David passed in 2009.
Incredibly involved in community organizations, Shirley maintained active memberships until her death in a variety of Nanaimo organizations including the Museum, Historical Society, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, Empire Days and Eastern Star.
The highlight of her final year was becoming a “GG” in December 2020, and having the chance to meet and hold her great-grandchild this past August. Shirley leaves her son Ron, her grandchildren Keith (Chantelle) and Deborah, her great-granddaughter Lilyanna, and her beloved nieces, nephews and grand-niece.
A celebration of life will be held in the spring. Please, no flowers. In lieu, donations may be made to Kiwanis Village (1233 Kiwanis Cres, Nanaimo V9S 5Y1) or the BC Cancer Foundation.Obituary

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