Shirley Spears was born on April 20th, 1940 in Calder Hall, Tobago in the West Indies to Adina “M” and Alick Spears. She was the second oldest of eleven brothers and sisters and she came into this world with her twin brother, Ronald. She was a wonderful big sister who was caring and protective but who also “did not take any mess.” Very focused on her schoolwork and exceling academically, Shirley graduated with honors from Bishops’ High School.
Shirley was introduced to Newton Virgil through a mutual friend. When she first saw Newton, she was smitten with him and he the same. They married in 1958 and three boys – Keith, Dave, and Clayton – were born to their union. Shirley and Newton lived the first 10 years of their married life in a flat in Newton’s parents’ home where Shirley developed a strong love for his mom “Megs” and her cooking. Shirley’s sisters frequently headed to the flat after school to play with their nephews.
Shirley and Newton moved to New York to create a better life for their family and, upon landing in Brooklyn, found an apartment on Union Street in Crown Heights. Shirley worked as a teller for Chase Manhattan Bank. Her aptitude and hard work was immediately noticed and she was quickly promoted to head teller. On weekends and evenings, she enjoyed seeing the sights in Brooklyn and Manhattan and following the New York Mets with her husband.
Together, she and Newton built enough savings to buy a house in Freeport, Long Island in 1979. Shirley planted a beautiful flower garden in the front yard and tended a vegetable and herb garden in the backyard. She always had something wonderful cooking on the stove. Shirley created a peaceful and loving home and welcomed all into it with open arms. Their house quickly became a hub for family and friends.
After the birth of their third son, Shirley left her job at the bank and became a homemaker. She also volunteered with different organizations in Freeport, including Cub Scouts, the Recreation Center, Archer Street Elementary, and Atkinson School. Shirley could frequently be seen walking around town on her way to and from taking care of business. She was known for greeting the young and old with her melodic “Hello Darling”.
Shirley was an incredible mother who gave so much to her children and loved them unconditionally. She encouraged them to do well in school and stay grounded spiritually. Shirley’s kindness was unparalleled and her children always felt protected. Even their friends felt the comfort from Shirley’s warm hugs and caring nature. She pushed her sons to explore a broad array of interests and passions. She was also their biggest advocate, taking the bus across town to pick up Clay from extracurricular activities, traveling to New Jersey to explore an electronics program for Dave and encouraging Keith’s music interests.
In the late 1980s, a series of health issues caused Newton to begin losing his eyesight. His life partner Shirley was right by his side. Caregiving was also second nature to Shirley. She cared for elderly neighbors - to help them stay in their homes, neighbor’s children - after the school day ended, and her own home was often filled with her sons’ friends. Shirley met Liz through a neighborhood friend and they formed an unbreakable friendship and bond. Their relationship brought both a daughter and sister into the Virgil family and, over the years, five grandsons.
In March of 2017, Newton was unexpectedly called home and things were not the same for Shirley without the love of her life and husband of nearly 60 years. She waited 18 months before rejoining Newton in heaven.
“Mama” leaves many loved ones to celebrate her years on this earth, including her sons: Keith (Sharnette), Dave (Phylis) and Clayton (Julayne); adopted daughter: Liz (Rex); granddaughters: Paige, Tyler, and Krystal (Dave); Vivienne and Zahra (Clayton); Xiomara (Keith); adopted grandsons: Glenn, Jaelen, Deveron, Kimani, and Andrew (Liz); sisters: Janice George, Janet Spears, Olive Spears, Elizabeth Richardson (Eugene), Bridget Spears, and Jennifer Marcellin (Lloyd); brother: Oliver Spears (Patsy); brothers-in-law: Eustace, Hilton, and Lashley Virgil; and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews and many friends.
She was preceded in death by her husband Newton Virgil; parents Adina “M” and Alick Spears; father- and mother-in-law Rupert and Margaret Virgil; sister Rosalind Alleyne, brothers Ronald “Rony” and Leopold Spears; and brother-in-law Ezekiel Virgil.
While she is longer here on this earth, “Mama” was an angel whose light and warmth touched everyone around her. Her spirit will live on through her many loved ones.