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Shirley Eleanor Nash, R.I.P.

Joshua Claybourn

If you read it all the way through to the end, I think you will find this to be one of the best obituaries ever written, in large part because the life it details is incredible. It is also offered below.

Shirley Eleanor Nash, 93, died peacefully Thursday, March 11, 2010, at the Garden House in Morro Bay, her hand held, being told she was loved, her favorite Andres Segovia album was playing in the background, and her room was filled with flowers and cards from friends, family and the Marines. She will be deeply missed.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1916, Shirley, came to Pasadena, Calif., as a child with her parents, Herbert Howgate Nash, an administrator at Cal Tech and Christina Eleanor Nash, a nursing volunteer. Shirley was the first of three children. In high school, she won recognition as a classical ballet dancer performing at the Rose Bowl, El Capitan, the Pantages, the Greek Theater and in movies with stars Margaret O’Sullivan, Fred MacMurry, the Marx Brothers and a flop starring Fibber McGee and Molly. After high school, she enrolled at Pasadena City College.

In 1940, yearning to see the world, she quit school, sold her car and bought a steamship ticket to China. As the only American, her fellow passengers were Japanese diplomats being ordered home and German army officers recalled to Berlin. Shirley told how the atmosphere was very tense with the two groups barely polite to one another. Arriving in Shanghai, she worked as a daily newspaper reporter in the city guarded by Japanese tanks and barbed wire barricades.

In November 1941, she boarded the last ship out of China before the war. A sister ship, with all her belongings, was blown up in the Philippines. While in China she meet a “China Marine” from the 4th Regiment of the Marine Corps, whom she married after World War II. Shirley returned home, joined the Marines, attended boot camp at New York’s Hunter College, then Quartermaster School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Shirley scored the highest ever, to that date, on the Officer Candidate School test and became a first lieutenant, served as the disbursing officer in the transport department stationed in Washington, D.C.

She traveled across the United States over 40 times on Marine Corps business. Upon leaving the Marines after WWII, she married Edward Ellery Kash, who had been captured by the Japanese, survived the Bataan Death march and spent most of the war in a Japanese prison camp. They lived in New York until divorcing, and then Shirley moved to Mexico City. They had one child, Pandora Noel Nash.

In the 1950s, Shirley attended Whittier College on the GI Bill and received a Bachelors and Masters with highest honors and worked as a college professor at Chaffey College for 25 years where she founded and headed the Interior Design department and taught architectural history. She utilized her dance and theater expertise at Chaffey, producing and choreographing numerous musicals including South Pacific, Oklahoma and Finian’s Rainbow.

Every summer was spent traveling the world’s most unusual places. Shirley was the first white woman to explore Dutch Guiana’s Suriname River, and she did it in a dugout canoe just 5 years after locals stopped practicing cannibalism. She taught school in St. Thomas and St. Croix during the 1960’s and tromped through mosquito-infested jungles to photograph ruins in Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Merida and Palenque decades before they became popular tourist destinations.

Shirley became a scholar specializing in California’s estancia and adobe architectural history of the 18th and 19th centuries. She was part of a team of historians that catalogued many of the 19th century homes in southern California. Noted as feisty and finding ways to get things done, she once applied to Hearst Castle for permission to do on-site research of its architecture and interiors, but was declined. She then applied for a job as a guide and was hired, which allowed her to do her research and get paid too.

She was married to Dwight Mossman, a southern California businessman, for 25 years. She was active in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, California Historic Society, Southern California Historic Society, Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Pasadena Historical Society, Ontario Historic Landmarks Society, Historical Society of Pomona Valley, the American Society of Interior Designers and the Retired Officers Association. An art lover, Shirley was an award-winning photographer, a skilled carver, weaver, mosaic artist and a basket maker using traditional Native American materials.

Shirley moved to Los Osos in 1998. She became a Charter member of the Marine Corps League, Detachment 680 and helped in the early planning stages of the San Luis Obispo County Veterans Museum and the Toys for Tots campaigns. In 2007, she was awarded the Detachment’s Challenge Coin, a special recognition medallion, presented by the Commandant for her service to the League.

Shirley is survived by daughter, Pandora Nash-Karner of Los Osos; grandson Eriel Shayne Nash of Los Osos; numerous cousins, nieces and nephews from King City, Oakland, Davis, and Etna, Calif., Bellevue and Olympia, Wash., Sidney, British Columbia; and Taipei, Taiwan. She was preceded in death by brother James H. Nash, M.D. of San Luis Obispo; and sister Phyllis Nash Barren of Bellevue, Wash. A gathering of family and friends will be held in early summer officiated by Richard Carsel and attended to by the Marine Corps League. Donations can be made to Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, 277 South Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO’ what a ride!” That was how Shirley Nash lived her life.

Tim Haley, of the Marine Corps League wrote, “Rest assured Shirley reported in to her final duty station standing tall and looking sharp and took her place among the formation of Marines. Mission accomplished Lt. Nash, well done. Semper Fidelis.”