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Obituary: Shirley Barsky

Shirley Barsky passed away on Sept. 21, 2009 at the age of 88. A resident of Port Washington for 49 years, she was an active and widely known member of the community who inspired those around her with her love of life, passion for social causes and the enjoyment of a rich cultural and intellectual life. She died peacefully at her home.

Shirley was born in 1921 in the tiny farming town of Hinckley, IL. She was the daughter of Robert and Bertha Shapiro. After graduating from high school at age 16, she entered the University of Chicago and lived at International House. Shirley received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university, majoring in romance languages. Her intellectual brightness caught the eye of the philosopher Mortimer Adler. At his invitation, she was among the first to join the editorial board of the Great Books Syntopicon, a project started by Dr. Adler and Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, to compile an index of major ideas from the great books of the Western World. On the board from 1943 to 1946, she paired with Saul Bellow on indexing four of the books among many projects. The Syntopicon is still a standard reference work in libraries across America.

On Jan. 1, 1955, she married Morrey Barsky, a professional fundraiser for United Jewish Appeal. They moved in 1960 with their two young sons to Port Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Barsky quickly immersed themselves in the community. While raising their two sons, Shirley helped her husband in the founding and operation of the Port Washington Senior Citizens in 1961. The organization started as an effort to provide high quality artistic and cultural activities to a small group of senior citizens, including Morrey’s mother. Shirley’s tireless work helped bring to fruition the robust and popular Port Washington Senior Center, with over 450 members. She wrote publicity articles for the local newspapers and helped with fundraising efforts for the Center and was serving actively as a member and secretary of the board of directors at the time of her death.

Shirley began her teaching career at Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois where she taught Spanish language classes from 1948-54. After arriving in New York, she returned to teaching, first at Roslyn High School and then for 23 years at Walt Whitman High School in South Huntington beginning in 1968. She was a vibrant and creative teacher who designed courses such as “Spanish for Travelers” and “Spanish Gregg” [shorthand] to engage her students in innovative ways. Her classes were filled with rich Spanish music and art as she shared her joy and extensive knowledge of culture and language.

After retiring in 1991, Shirley traveled, enjoyed her grandchildren, and was very committed to her many friends. She expanded her community and political work. In 2005, she joined the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters where she worked on the government committee, researching and writing articles, and was still serving actively on the board of directors. The organization was especially important to her as she knew her work could make a difference on a political level to address the many social issues and challenges of our time. She also inspired others to feel concern about human suffering and the condition of the world around us.

Throughout her adult life Shirley continued to immerse herself in arts and culture. She was an avid reader, part of a Spanish reading group for 20 years and was currently chairing a political-philosophical discussion group from the Port library.

Shirley leaves a broken-hearted family: Morrey, her devoted husband of 54 years and their two sons, Robert and his wife Alvita of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, and Jonathan and his wife Nathalie of San Anselmo, CA, and three grandchildren, Daniel, Emma and Sarah. Shirley, we love you dearly. Your joy of life, the way in which you made everyone around you feel unique and special, will forever remain a source of inspiration for us all.