Ranting

People taught, people touched, people who will remember

September 3rd, 2021

Shirley

(published in The Daily Memphian)

“How’s Miss Shirley?”

Kelsey Johnson asked me that as I was climbing aboard one of the torture devices at Momentum Physical Therapy for three sets of 10. Kelsey is one of the physical therapists at Momentum and the concern in her voice and on her face was genuine. She was speaking for all of the therapists, and many of the patients. They knew Shirley was a friend and they hadn’t seen her in a while.

Fear of Covid had kept her away, and Shirley was missed.

Her stories were missed. Her infectious smile and spirit, too. The intelligent glint in her eye, the bit of mischief always present, the ready ear and ready laugh. She never met anyone she couldn’t talk to – if she chose to – because she also never met a fool she could suffer for very long. Or fail to colorfully discuss.

She exercised all those things as a welcome participant at Momentum almost every afternoon. She had originally come as patient and continued in the wellness program. The sound of her voice and the volume of her attitude was as uplifting as the motion of the various gears and pulleys, as therapeutic for aches and pains as any three sets of 10.

Shirley loved the place, and the place loved her back.

Not long after, Shirley Lupfer died at home in her bed with her son Eric at her side on June 18. It was quick, and on her terms, as much of her life was.

Shirley is greatly missed.

She is missed by the University of Memphis, where she was a distinguished psychology faculty member for 35 years. And where she and her husband Mike, also a distinguished psychology faculty member, endowed an award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the psychology department – the Lupfer Award, as it’s known on campus.

She is missed by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, where she was a docent after retirement from the university, leading tours for 20 years with broad knowledge, insight, and wit, still teaching, with that same intelligent glint in her eye.

She is missed by her students – hundreds if not thousands of them. Shirley loved teaching, the subjects she taught and those she taught, and the impact of that was felt in the classroom and across hundreds if not thousands of careers and lives.

She is missed by her friends – hundreds if not thousands of them as well – and by Planned Parenthood, and Girls Inc., and Leadership Memphis, and at Theatre Memphis, and at Café 1912, and Café Society, and Tsunami, and Otherlands, and across tennis nets, and all across the city.

Shirley loved the place, and the place loved her back.

She is certainly missed by her family in Texas and South Carolina, and by mine here and in New York. And by the twin girls across the street, and lots of kids up and down the street who have appeared over the years at Shirley’s back door for something warm from her kitchen, or just something warm in general. And in the neighborhood she and Andy (the dog who could do no wrong) and Bonnie (the dog before who could do no wrong) walked daily across the decades she and Mike lived there.

And across the driveway for 25 years from Nora and me.

Mike and Shirley and six-year-old Eric were there in 1976 when we moved in next door with our one-year-old. There and with us through countless U of M basketball games on their TV and ours. “%#@&*,” Shirley would repeat with every bricked free throw and turnover in the second half. Mike would follow with, “There they go.” There on road trips we’d take together, on rivers through rapids, over interesting food, in galleries and gardens, stadiums, and arenas. There to share their stories and slides from their trips all around the world. There to share every event in our lives.

They were at the table in our home every Christmas Eve for 40 years as our kids grew into adults, and married, and had kids of their own – all joining us at that table where Shirley’s crown pork roast was as much a Christmas fixture as the tree.

Even though we’ve moved twice in that time, even though Mike left us in 2018 and now Shirley, they will never be more than the width of that driveway away, never gone from our hearts, never gone from the core memories that inform your life.

If you have friends like that, you’re fortunate. If you have friends like that, especially in the time we’ve lived through and the people we’ve lost, let them know what they mean to you. Our time here is precious and fleeting.

Their house is green, in fact, a color Nora and I have designated as Lupfer Green, and it always has been. If a future owner changes that, we’ll have to have a conversation.

So, Kelsey, to answer your question, Miss Shirley is greatly missed, was greatly loved, and will not be forgotten.

Miss Shirley is and was truly fine.

I’m a Memphian, and Shirley Lupfer is and will always be my friend.

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