Shirley Spencer McDowell
Talented vocalist, patron of the arts
Shirley Spencer McDowell, lover of the arts, died at Mount San Antonio Gardens on October 11, 2014. She was 91.
She was born on February 15, 1923 in Syracuse, New York. Her parents were Josephine Nielsen, born in Denmark, who after emigrating to the United States was an employee and model for the original Peck & Peck department store in New York City, and Harry Edward Spencer of Old Town, Maine, an inventor and chemical engineer. Shirley was raised in Syracuse until the age of 16. For part of that time, her father was employed by the USSR, designing and overseeing construction of its first ammonia plant located in Berezniki on the Siberian border. Shirley and her mother joined him there for a year in 1932.
In 1939 the family moved to Jonesboro, Louisiana, where Shirley finished high school and was elected homecoming queen. Her education continued at Duke University where she completed a bachelor’s degree in economics and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. In her junior year, she was honored to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to her academic pursuits, Shirley was a talented vocal performer and participated in many musical activities. She was a soloist with the Chapel Choir and president of the Women’s Glee Club.
In 1944, Shirley married Henry Hitt Crane, Jr. who was studying at Duke Medical School. Following their marriage, she was employed by the Department of Neuropsychiatry at Duke University Hospital. The couple moved to Detroit, where Henry continued his education at Wayne University Medical School and Shirley trained as an ophthalmic technician. She spent the next seven years working for the eminent ophthalmologist, Dr. Ralph H. Pino. Her musical interests continued as she studied voice at the Detroit Conservatory of Music and sang in the chorus with the Detroit Symphony on the weekly radio broadcast, the Ford Sunday Evening Hour.
In 1952, the Cranes moved to Claremont, where Mr. Crane enrolled in the Claremont Graduate School. They had two daughters, Christine and Cheryl. The Cranes were divorced in 1962.
Shirley was then employed as an ophthalmic technician by Dr. Nelson C Bell, happily working with Dr. Bell for 23 years. She also obtained her credential as a Biofeedback Therapist and earned an master’s degree in counseling from the University of LaVerne, going on to specialize in the treatment of migraine headaches.
In 1965, Shirley married Claremont architect Fred W. McDowell. After retiring from Dr. Bell’s practice, she joined Fred as an administrative assistant for his architectural firm.
Mrs. McDowell was actively involved with a number of organizations in Claremont that supported artistic endeavors. Closely involved with the Rembrandt Club, she served on its board for many years, two of them as president. She also served as secretary for the Scripps Fine Arts Foundation, and offered administrative support to the Curtain Raisers. Besides the visual and performing arts, her many interests included travel, gourmet cooking (her parties were legendary), tennis, knitting and poetry, with a special focus on Haiku.
Following her beloved husband’s death in 2002, Shirley moved to Mt San Antonio Gardens. In her new home, she found much enjoyment serving on the Gallery Committee, facilitating the art exhibits and writing for the Gardens’ newsletter, The Greenleaf.
Mrs. McDowell is survived by her daughter, Christine Crane (Julian Curran), and by her grandson, Ryan Spencer Tyni. She also leaves Fred’s children, An McDowell (Dan O’Brien), and Hugh McDowell, and An’s daughter Emily Rose McDowell. She was predeceased by her daughter Cheryl Crane.
At her request, no services will be held. In lieu of flowers, she and her family would be pleased to have any remembrances directed to Red Oak Opportunity Foundation, 6450 Moraga Blvd., Oakland, CA 94611, or visist www.redoak-roof.org, or the charity of your choice.