Updated: Jun 11
Shirley was a champion for California's older adults.
As an employee of Bechtel she was elected Chairman of the Board of the Bechtel Credit Union; a position she held for close to 35 years. It was during this time that she began understanding the damage done to the elderly which was identified as elder financial abuse. Shirley made it her business to learn as much as possible about this crime. She spent a fair amount of time bringing the issue to the attention of other credit unions, both in California and via their national association. Subsequently Shirley advocated aggressively to have laws passed that require all financial institutions to report suspected abuse. The mandated reporting law was passed. It is still a national mandate which Shirley launched in California.
After 37 years Shirley retired from Bechtel in 1999, but she was not done advocating! She got involved with the Advisory Council on Aging in Contra Costa County and twice served as their President. Through her work with the Advisory Council, she was introduced to the California Senior Legislature (CSL) where she was elected as a Senior Assemblymember representing Contra Costa County. The Senior Legislature is focused on creating legislative proposals and advocating for issues impacting our aging population. Shirley has served as Vice Chair of the Joint Rules Committee since 2004. For 39 years CSL has convened an annual session in the State Capitol where members present legislative proposals they created. The group then votes on the top 10 state related proposals, as well as the top 4 federal proposals. Like everyone, CSL have had to pivot their model. Shirley is busy helping to establish regional virtual meetings, so their work will be seamless and effective during the pandemic.
Shirley was the caregiver of her beloved sister who was diagnosed with dementia over 19 years ago. Shirley was able to get all of her legal and financial issues in order, but sadly her sister deteriorated very quickly. She was in a vegetative state for 10 years in a nursing home, and passed away in 2017. Shirley had also lost her only brother to Alzheimer’s. This experience piqued her interest in “end of life” decisions for people with a dementia diagnosis while they are still cognitively able to choose their path. Shirley is researching and working on introducing legislation in 2021 which will enable individuals with this diagnosis to make end of life decision while they have the mental capacity to make them.
Among the most joyous experiences of Shirley’s life have been working with California State University Master of Social Work students on issues of aging at various campuses. It was a great opportunity to have a policy dialogue with students. Her most current experience was at CSU Bakersfield. She instructed the students to read and study the Older Californians Act. The students formed small work groups, and ultimately provided revisions to the Act. Her proudest moment was when she was invited to meet with the students in Bakersfield to hear their final recommendations. Upon graduation, most of the students she had worked with at several of the universities went into the aging field in some capacity. Her work with the students was recognized by the National Association of Social Workers, Northern California Chapter when they named her their “Citizen of the Year” in 2014.
Shirley continues to work on senior issues surrounding transportation and services in the new normal, as well as her proudest accomplishment, getting legislation chaptered into law. She is reflective about the benefits of Sheltering in Place, and how it has enabled her to focus on the senior issues most important to her rather than running, running, running to meetings throughout California.
Shirley wants everyone to remember that June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month.
Special thank you to Choice in Aging for submitting Shirley's story