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Shirley J. Reiss

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Waltham, MA 02453
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“Shirley was. an active participant in our Local and Global Discussion Group at the Council on Aging in Weston. We will miss her quiet, but wise,...Read More »
1 of 1 | Posted by: Susan Wagner - Wayland, MA


Shirley Reiss, died at age 87 on April 2, 2020 after a short struggle with cancer. She remained in her home until close to the end in Weston, Massachusetts.

Shirley was born on December 6, 1933 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Thelma and Earl Richardson, Canadian immigrants who had left their family farms in New Brunswick in the 1920's to settle in Waltham Massachusetts where her father worked as a self-employed electrician. Shirley's fondest childhood memories were of the long summers spent at her grandparents' isolated and self-sustaining farm in Canada. Shirley's mother was a certified nurse, who stopped practicing shortly after Shirley and her younger brother, Donald, were born. While Shirley's mother taught her to care for others, and passed on her cooking skills and appreciation for good food, her short-lived career would encourage her daughter to seek broader horizons.

Shirley attended the Banks School in Waltham and later graduated from Wellesley College. She traveled to Europe in 1962 where she met her first husband Michel Schiff, a French researcher in physics and the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled Germany in 1930 to settle in Paris. Their children, André and Claire, were born in 1966 and 1967. Shirley worked as an English teacher for IBM Paris until 1982, while raising her children after her divorce in 1972 and studying to obtain a Master's degree in psychology from the University of Paris. As Shirley stated in one of her writings, "In the middle class French milieu in which I lived it was taken for granted that I would work and improve my professional skills. Structures were in place to make this possible."

In 1984, Shirley returned to the United States and to her hometown of Waltham. After some years working as an English as a second language teacher at FitzGerald public school she met her late second husband, Richard Reiss, a long time summer resident of Larsen Lane in Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard. They spent the next twenty years of their retirement traveling abroad, enjoying the Vineyard and their step-grandchildren, Hannah DeKeijzer (daughter of Helen and Arne Dekeijzer of Weston Connecticut and Menemsha), and Noémie and Lucien Zandler (children of Claire Schiff and longtime Vineyard resident Zachary Zandler of Bordeaux, France).

Until the end Shirley remained active and engaged in social justice initiatives through her volunteer work which she began in the early 1990s. She became a board member and later chairwoman for Common Cause Massachusetts and was particularly active in promoting campaign finance reform. She also volunteered for over twenty years at the Cambridge Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (recently renamed De Novo) as a therapist for immigrants and asylum-seekers and low-income people. She felt that helping those who had suffered the traumas of war and conflict to heal and obtain asylum was one of the most enriching experiences of her life.

A life celebration for Shirley will be held at a later date.

Donations in Shirley's memory can be made to De Novo (https://www.denovo.org) or to Common Cause Massachusetts (https://www.commoncause.org/massachusetts)