Local philanthropist Betty Shirley dies at 95

By WVUA 23 News Student Reporter Chaney Scott

A light has gone out in Tuscaloosa, as longtime mental health advocate Betty Bailey Shirley died Thursday at the age of 95.

The University of Alabama graduate devoted her life to community service, especially for children with disabilities, because of her late grandson Walt Gary.

Shirley was heavily involved with UA’s Rise Center and the UA Crossing Points ProgramShe was part of moving Rise to the Stallings Center in the 1990s, raising more than $3 million for an endowment fund called “The Betty Shirley Tree of Life.” In 1991, President George H. W. Bush recognized Shirley for her community service by honoring her as one of 1,000 Points of Light Across America.

In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Capstone Medical Center was named the Betty Shirley Clinic for Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

Rise Center Director Andi Gillen said Shirley was an inspiring woman who worked tirelessly for families.

“It’s hard to even put into words,” Gillen said. “She immediately jumped right in, like she did with all things she was involved in. She was a huge part of fundraising and being an advocate for our program over 20 years ago.”

The commons area at Rise is named in her honor, Gillen said.

“Friends came together in 1994 to make sure she had a place at Rise to call her own and that was our commons area,” Gillen said. “She has been a cheerleader for our staff. She provided insight and direction. She just in so many ways made a positive impact on our program.”

Gillen said Shirley was as generous as she was dedicated.

“One of the fondest memories I have of her is that she would randomly call me, saying ‘I’m just going to stop by,’ ” Gillen said. “She would come by Rise, would bring a treat for all the staff. She would always bring something for the staff. She would also bring several books for a classroom. She loved being in the classroom. She loved delivering those books. She always kept up with what our program was doing. She was so thoughtful.”

If you’re interested in following in Shirley’s footsteps by supporting the Rise Center, you can learn more about donating right here.

Categories: Local News