Monday, April 25, 2022

The Celebration of Life for Ann Morrisroe Shenkin, March 26, 2022

Our Celebration of Life for my wife Ann was held at the Claremont Spa and Resort -- our neighborhood hotel and meeting place here in south Berkeley, with some 90 friends and family in attendance, and more on Zoom.  It was a lovely and memorable affair.  As we all said, if only she could have been there to see it, she would have been amazed, and I think overwhelmed.

I spoke, her three kids Sara, Brian, and Peter spoke, her son-in-law Eric spoke, her brother Paul spoke, her brother-in-law Bob spoke, two of the kids' friends who were particularly close to us spoke, a neighbor spoke, Sara's sister in law spoke from Chambéry in France, and we then adjourned for a lunch that Ann would have loved -- burgers, fries, Caesar salad, and brownies for dessert.

The eulogies are recorded here in an hour long Zoom recording, which includes some slides:

And here is the text for my Eulogy:

Ann’s Eulogy

March 26, 2022


Thanks for being here today.  It’s a great turnout, and I think that’s a tribute to a very remarkable person.  Here at the start, I want to echo Peter in acknowledging Sara Buckelew, First and only Daughter, who did the major part of arranging this whole affair.  It is completely in character for Sara to pop up when help is needed, particularly in support of her mother.

Ann had 76 years.  I tried to set myself the task of summarizing those 76 years here, while respecting her constant advice to me every time I got up to speak — she would whisper to me, “Be Brief!”

Well, of course, that can’t be done.  So I’m going to try to hit her highlights — eulogy means “praise,” in Greek, so I’m going to try to encapsulate the triumphs of her life in 15 or 20 minutes.  And I’ve written it all down, so what I’ll miss in spontaneity, I hope to make up for in compactness.

Anyone who knew Ann recognized her great grace, class, intelligence, and wit.  What you might not know about is how brave she was.  She was so very brave.  So, what I want to try to do, is to look at her life as it would be portrayed as a TV serial, Season One to Season Six.  At each point, let’s be sure to look for her bravery.

I also can't resist sharing with you what my brother Bob, a judge in Pennsylvania – who loved Ann so much – what he said when I was receiving a award from the Academy of Pediatrics and I was being praised.  He said to me, as only a brother could, “This is nice, but when is it time for rebuttal?”  Today, as then, there will be no rebuttals.

Season One - Early history – the Morrisroe family, through high school

Ann’s father, John Morrisroe, was a remarkable man.  He grew up in a working class gloriously Irish family that moved all over America.  They finally wound up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City.  John's granddaughter Sarah Morrisroe Mester, who is here with us today, wrote about his life when she was a high school senior.  She said his story was the story of American opportunity, and so it was.

Whip smart, John won a Pulitzer Newsboy's scholarship to Columbia – from Hell's Kitchen to Columbia! - and became a chemical engineer.  He married Barbara Lane of Long Island, they moved to California, and Ann, the second of their 5 children, was born here at Alta Bates Hospital.  Then they moved to San Marino in Southern California, where Ann grew up, and where John founded his own highly successful company, Pilot Chemical.  Ann’s beloved brother and sister, Paul and Nancy, are with us here today.

Paul described the child-rearing philosophy of their mother as, “children should raise themselves.”  As Nancy says, though, she did have the ideas of a woman’s place that was typical for her generation.  Her main ambition for her daughters was that they get married.  She might not have been ready for how smart  Ann was, like her father, and how strong willed, also like her father.  Ann would have to forge her path on her own.

Ann was unhappy at San Marino High because, her guidance counselor said, she was the smartest girl in her class.  But her smarts didn't stop her from being a Southern California girl.  She roasted with her friends in the sun, and at the age of 16, she got a Pontiac Firebird.  From that time forward, Ann always had cars with style.  I wish I had a picture of her with her Firebird.

Also of note is an early athletic triumph — as a swimmer, Ann turned out to be a champion floater!  Now, that’s a distinction she was always quietly proud of, especially in our sports-enthusiastic family.

Season Two - Off to college, marriage and children

So let’s go to Season Two, when Ann headed for Cal with a suitcase and an address, never to leave Berkeley as her home, although she didn’t know it, of course.  Ann loved Cal!  Class of 1967, so many friends — including Mike Emery, here with us today — the excitement of Free Speech, she loved being an English major.  Basically, she had a hell of a time in college.  Then when she graduated she stayed in the East Bay and got an assistant editor’s job at Harcourt Brace in the City.  And then, much to her mother’s relief, I suppose, she found a lovely husband, Bruce Buckelew.  Bruce and his wife Kate are here today.  Bruce’s philosophy contrasted nicely with Ann’s realism,  Bruce has always looked for the best in people, while Ann has taken the Irish view of the perpetual iniquity of mankind.  

They were a lovely couple.  They had two wonderful, healthy, intelligent, lively children, first Sara and then Brian, Bruce had a job with IBM, and Ann stayed home with the kids.

These years were particularly significant for Ann because of her determination that her kids would be raised with more parental guidance than she had gotten.  She and Bruce were great parents to Sara and Brian, and as a pediatrician, I have to say that their later success - Sara is a full professor of pediatrics at UCSF and Brian is a newly appointed judge in Santa Clara county — can be at least partly traced back to that important early childhood confidence building.

Season Three – Disruption, falling in love. Back to work, blend the families, then to law school, and legal career, Avenue Books, and baby Peter.

In season three, things got complicated.  The 70's was hard on marriages.  Ann's marriage collapsed almost simultaneously with the marriages of her two best friends.  Then she and I fell helplessly in love.  And from then on, our personal stories for the next 44 years were the story of the two of us.

When we got married we each had joint custody of our kids, her two — Sara and Brian —and my two — Allie and Nick — and we tried to blend our families.  Our kids got on very well with each other, even loved each other, chose to be with us at the same time rather than separately, called each other brothers and sister.

To look ahead, throughout our marriage to the very end, our feelings never stopped being intense, even when, inevitably, things got rough.  Ann's feelings might have resembled those of the New York lady who was asked, after a long marriage with a difficult man, if she had ever considered divorce.  She answered – “Divorce?  Never!  But murder....”  

So in 1977, Ann stopped being a housewife and joined the world at work.  She was assistant to the Chancellor at UCSF Medical School, and as soon as her employers saw what they had lucked into with her, they put her in charge of charming Joseph Long, who wanted to give millions for what would become Long Hospital.  She helped them get those millions.  She had class, she was so pretty and charming, and she was so smart.  

Then she wanted more and went to law school at USF, where she excelled, was asked to join law review, and then passed the bar in her first try.  She practiced family law in the East Bay for 7 years, trying to bring out the best in people, just when they were usually at their worst.  Then, like so many others in that tiring pursuit of family law, she made another very brave decision – she quit law to join Brian Rood, who is here today, at Avenue Books on College Avenue.  She found it much more peaceful living among books and the people who loved them.  We loved Avenue Books.

During this time, finding that 4 kids were not enough, Ann and I decided to have another, and we were blessed - and I mean blessed — with Peter.  He was 5 weeks premature because Ann developed a rare condition called HELPP Syndrome.  Both were sick in the hospital at Summit, but both pulled through.

It’s funny how the last addition can be someone you can't imagine the world without.  What a keystone to our family, what a great kid, what a sports fan!  As the baby in the family, Peter was the focus of love from the other six of us, and always will be.  I won’t embarrass him further by singing his praises, but let’s just say, every time I would say “Peter Shenkin” to Ann, she would just smile and shake her head in disbelief.

Here’s a picture of Ann with Peter at UCSF hospital after Peter had his heart surgery to close an ASD.  

Season Four — 80’s and 90’s

Season Four was the 80’s and the 90’s, all of us working hard, all the school and sports activities, vacations, burgers and fries, great Christmas dinners, and Ann learned to make great latkas.  All those ball games!  Even though she was not religious, she had a special prayer, called Ann's Prayer, uttered before going into the stadium before every baseball game, “Please, God, no extra innings!”

She supported me at work.  When I told her about a difficult case, she would say, “Did you get a consultation?”  She tried to protect me.

She loved to travel, and this is when we started.  It's amazing what staying in the same house that was bought in 1972 and having a mortgage of $289 a month can do for you.  Where do you want to go, she'd ask me?  I would murmur a vague wish.  She made it come true.  

Ann always tried to give thoughtful gifts.  One year she surprised me at Christmas with a present of tickets to the final Four in Atlanta.   For that feat, she was voted mother of the year by Peter's friends.

Season Five -- Against The Odds

To accomplish what she did — being the first woman in her family to go to college, to be so successful at UCSF, to go to law school, to form her own independent political opinions and defend them — Ann had to be tough and resilient.  At about this time, she realized she had another obstacle to surmount.  

She realized that she had to stop drinking.  So she did.  She worked hard, and she succeeded, where so many others have failed.  She never took another drink.  That's not easy.
Her decision and her resolution gave her and our family 20 years of life that we wouldn’t otherwise have had.  We were and are so proud and so grateful.  She was my hero once again.

Season Six – Years of Stability and Growth and Life Enhancement

The years of 2000 to 2014  started with a trauma — Peter got hit by a falling tree as his class camped by the American River, and Peter escaped by the skin of his teeth.   The whole family, and much of the school, gathered at his bedside at Sutter Hospital in Roseville.  Ann was shaken, but steadfast.  Her little boy.  But once again, we all had so much to be grateful for.  It was really a matter of inches.  

Then, as Peter recovered and was the last kid to fly away from the nest, we had years of great growth for us.  We started those years by buying a condo in Maui and then building a house there.  Ann had always wanted to design her own house, and she did a magnificent job.  What taste!

No marriage is completely smooth, and ours was rockier than most.  They say that arguing is normal in marriage and is a sign of love.  My wife loved me very much.  We saw a marriage counselor to help us over a particularly rough spot.  We found it so useful that we figured, even when things were going very well, why should we stop?  So we didn’t.  In fact, our therapist became so fond us that he moved his office from around the lake to just down from here on Ashby, walking distance.  We were so grateful.  But seriously, we never stopped wanting to be better persons and have a better marriage.  I guess you could say that we were achievers.

In 2012, I got a chance to retire – Stanford wanted to establish a network of pediatric offices, and our practice, Bayside Medical Group, was the top target on their list.  This was a chance for us, because I could retire leaving the practice in strong hands for our patients, our clinicians, and our staff.  When I got the offer and was driving up Sand Hill Road, I called her to tell her that the deal looked acceptable.  What she told me was pure Ann.  She gave me the wifely advice and support I had come to cherish. She simply said, “Now, don't fuck it up!”  Ahhh, my wife Ann.
Season Seven – retirement and then a new illness

So we retired.  We traveled, we relaxed, we got used to my being home more.  And then Ann had trouble writing, and when we followed that up, we got the diagnosis of Alzheimer's.  Alzheimer's took away one function after another, but she never lost her mind.  She was always Ann.  Always the woman I loved.  

We decided to make the most of the years we had.  We took the trips that Ann loved.  We had always traveled, so now we did it even more.  

Here are some of our travel slides, from the earlier years to the later ones.  I have a captive audience here — I think I’ll subject you to our travel slides !  Why not?  No, not really.  But I am going to flash some slides to show you how great she looked and how happy she was when we traveled. 

Alzheimer’s is devastating, but for us, it was also slow, until the end.  As she would lose some functions, we would find ways around them, I would fill in the gaps so that she would be as happy and as comfortable as possible.  I would take care of my little girl.  

Then, as time went on and she had trouble going out, we were lucky to find wonderful medical support in our doctors, the hospice program, and finally our wonderful health aides.

And as I said, Ann was always so brave.  She did not complain, she just went on as best she could.  I admire that so much.  

We were so lucky.  Everyone who has ever cared for us, from Alice who took care of the house and helped raise Peter and called him “my white son,” to José and Antonia who have worked at the house and garden for 25 years, to our health aides, they all loved Ann.  Really, they saw her for the kind and lovely person she was.  Alice said that Ann was her best friend, José and Antonia call her “a wonderful woman,” and Lai and Carol and Wilma, her health aides in her last year, all loved and respected her.  A week before she died, when she could hardly speak, she turned to Carol and said, three times: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  Carol knew she was saying goodbye.  And she told Lai, “I really like you.”  Here she was in her last days, and she could hardly talk, but she thanked her aides.  That tells you a lot about a woman.

When she could finally go on no more, she was in her hospital bed in our room in our house on Oakvale, where she had lived since 1972, and the three kids and I were all at her side.


Ann’s life was a life rich with fulfillment.  It was a battle, with wins and losses.  She was a great mother to her kids.  She was loved by them and many others, she did most of the things she had dreamed of doing, and she was a very good and principled person.   

I love and admire her so much.  She was elegant, she was intelligent, she was charming, she was responsible, she was gorgeous, and she was kind.  We are grateful that Ann is released from her struggles, but we are all heartbroken.  But we are also all so proud of her.  When she got sick, there was never a complaint, only bravely going on.  She is the bravest person I've ever known, I think.  

I think she was wonderful.  But then, when it comes to Ann, my little girl, I'm the most prejudiced person in the world.

And now, some final slides to show you how beautiful Ann was.  (See recording.)

Budd Shenkin

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