Shirley Blake 89, of Greenfield, NH died late Wednesday, January 9th, 2019, at Hillsboro House following a period of failing health.
Born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on September 29, 1929, the only child of Lithuanian émigré Isaac Feinberg and Goldie (nee Feldstein) of East Boston, Shirley liked to joke that she must have caused The Great Depression, a reference to the stock market crash which heralded the start of the infamous economic crisis one month later.
A happy childhood was interrupted in 1937 with the death of her father at the age of 49. After her dad’s death, Shirley was raised by her mother at a time when children were often whisked away to be raised by relatives with larger families as single women weren’t thought capable of bringing up children–particularly with the hardships created by the brutal economic times of the 1930’s. As a child, Shirley worked part-time jobs to help put food on the table. She also participated in drives to raise money to plant trees in the yet to be formed nation of Israel. An excellent student with a good head for numbers and beautiful penmanship, Shirley graduated early from Brighton High School in Brighton, MA in 1946 and started working full-time to help support the household, holding a number of secretarial and administrative jobs at various auto dealerships on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston through her teens and early 20s. Eventually, her love of jazz music, particularly Ella Fitzgerald and Sara Vaughn, led her to open a record store in Medford MA, which she ran for several years with her first husband, Carl Gustafson.
Shirley met and fell in love with Russell Blake of Medford, MA in 1959. The pair married in 1960 and lived in Medford and various locations around the South Shore, eventually settling in Hingham, MA in 1964. Shirley had four children during the 1960’s and continued to work part-time and evenings for former Boston Patriot’s owner Billy Sullivan’s Metropolitan Petroleum, Cutler VW, and Wolfe-Sullivan motors. The family moved to Greenfield, New Hampshire in 1972. In addition to raising their children while Russell commuted five days a week to his job at the Boston Globe, Shirley worked as the office manager for the Visiting Nurse Association in Peterborough, NH, then at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, where as the main receptionist and switchboard operator, she served as the face and voice of Crotched Mountain for twenty two years until her retirement in 2008. In addition to her work, Shirley also volunteered for the Red Cross, Meals On Wheels, and Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
A lifelong lover of animals, Shirley and Russell owned dozens of dogs and cats. A favorite family story involves the cat, Porgy, who was thought to be male. When, Porgy gave birth to a litter of kittens, Shirley took it in stride, renaming Porgy as Bess.
Although never religious, her upbringing in a large, extended Jewish immigrant family helped instill a lifelong spirit of generosity towards others. She loved to shop for clothing, and while she was known for her style—particularly her love of the color purple—she loved to shop for others and give gifts even more. She enjoyed cooking for her family and friends, particularly lasagna, but loved to dine out as well, particularly for Chinese food. In 2007, Shirley received a diagnosis of Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia, a rare form of cancer that affects white blood cells. When her doctor told her that this meant she would finally have to give up smoking, Shirley was stoic. After having smoking consistently for sixty-two years, Shirley quit cold-turkey and never touched another cigarette again. While Waldenström's is currently considered incurable, Shirley kept it at bay, donating blood and bone marrow to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for their research in April, 2018. Five years later, in 2012, she survived, and largely recovered from a massive stroke, living for a time in Scott Farrar Home, before moving into Summerhill Assisted Living in Peterborough, with Russell in 2013. Except for a brief period at Monadnock Community Hospital, and Hillsboro House in the last weeks of her life, she and Russell, who died peacefully in 2016, would spend the remainder of their days at Summerhill.
Her generosity, kindness, honesty, style, and dry wit will be missed.
She is survived by sons Jonathan of Ripton, VT., Gregory and wife Judy of Peterborough, David and wife Carrie of Virginia, and daughter Jennifer and husband Tim Quackenbush of Peterborough; Grandchildren Seth of South Pasadena, CA, Isaac, Gray, Elaina, and Elias all of Peterborough; as well as many friends and extended family members throughout the United States.
The family would like to express their special appreciation for the high quality and thoughtful long-term care provided by Dr. Steven Larmon and his staff at the Oncology and Infusion Therapy Center of Monadnock Community Hospital.