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Shirley Ann Danielson Johnston

Shirley Ann Danielson Johnston
  • February 23, 1927 - June 23, 2017
  • Needham, Massachusetts

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Memories & Candles

“This is a lovely remembrance of your wonderful and generous-hearted mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I spent many hours with her listening...Read More »
1 of 2 | Posted by: Dorothy Dundas - Newton, MA

“Craig; Your mom sounds like person I'd like to have known. Condolences to your family. ”
2 of 2 | Posted by: Cindy McCann - Portland - Friend


Shirley Ann Danielson Johnston was born in 1927, the beloved only daughter of a family that had lost its other only daughter—and firstborn—not long before; she grew up cherished, in a small town of mostly Swedish immigrants in Wisconsin during the Depression. "I didn't know we were poor," she always said; they were lucky to have enough, and no one in those days expected more than that. This set of circumstances—a loving extended family in which she held a special place, and a small town filled with natural beauty on the shore of Lake Superior—may have set her up particularly well for the sunny optimism that came to define her, and to lift everyone around her. But this was also clearly her nature, and it held steady all through her life.

She loved Port Wing, and always considered it an ideal place for a childhood; in her memory, it was her mother baking on Fridays for visitors, and sleigh rides with her uncle in the winter, and candles on the Christmas tree at church. She also knew from a young age, though, that she wanted to live in a wider world. At twenty, she was the first person from her family—and one of the first from her town—to finish college, at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she majored in journalism. The summer before her senior year, she made her first big trip, taking the train with a friend to work as a parlor maid at a resort in New Hampshire. Boarding the train in Boston, a couple of young men helped with their bags and offered them their seats.

After they parted, Shirley turned to her friend and said, "What nice young men—too bad we'll never see them again." But oddly, one of them turned up the next day too...and kept turning up. Several weeks after her college graduation the next summer, Shirley and Johnny were married.

While Johnny finished college on the GI bill and then went to law school, she worked for Horticulture Magazine. They lived in a triple-decker in Watertown, upstairs from law school friends, working hard and having dinner parties with their friends. The latter had to slow down somewhat after they began having children, but throughout her life, Shirley's friends were precious to her—and she to them; even with seven of her own children—and always a few welcome extras—to occupy her time and heart, she was a person whom many thought of as their closest friend.

The other omnipresent features in her life were her devotion to her church, St. Andrew's, her deep engagement in the Wellesley community, and her steady dedication to her volunteer work, which occupied her even into the last months of her life. She was president of the Women of St. Andrew's, as well as its first female Warden; of Tau Beta Beta (which provides scholarships to young women); of the Boston alumnae chapter of her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta; of the Wellesley Hills Garden Club; of the Gains Investment Club; and of the Florence Crittenton League of Wellesley. She was also a Boy Scout leader, a Girl Scout leader, and involved in the Massachusetts Society for the University Education of Women, the New England Farm and Garden Club, the St. Andrew's Junior Choir and Wellesley Flight Bridge, as well as a patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

And those things were by no means everything; her energies, heart, and mind were always prodigious. Even when her children were young—seven or more heads to keep track of, mouths to feed, and hearts to nourish, as well as a mind-boggling array of sports practices, choir practices, dance classes, and school musicals to track—Shirley also kept writing, including a stint writing none other than the world-famous Peewee and Bantam Hockey League column for the Townsman—the lack of a Pulitzer for which was surely an oversight.

As the children grew up and moved away, she and Johnny traveled to see them, and traveled with them too—around the U.S., Hong Kong, Europe, Russia. And then there were the seven grandchildren—more hands to hold and questions to answer. Awhile after Johnny died in 2000, Shirley moved to North Hill, where many of her dearest friends were living. But this was by no means a retirement from the world—she continued traveling to London, to Nice, and anywhere her children were perched. And she continued her involvement with St. Andrew's, and most of her volunteer activities—straight through her eighties. She continued to cherish her family and her old friends, and never stopped making new friends too.

Shirley was predeceased by her husband John R. Johnston. She is survived by her seven children: John and his wife Judy, Susan, Anne, Craig and his wife Jane, Mark and his wife Sarah, Erica and Emily; her seven grandchildren, Michael, Alison and Daniel, and Helen, Haynes, Abigail and Ian; and her two great grandchildren, Finn and Hannah. All of them look at the world differently because of her.

Shirley's memorial service will be on Friday, July 21, at 10 am at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Wellesley.