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Taney teacher retires pledging a gift in her Will to Christian Aid Ireland

When Shirley Chee was a child, her parents fostered a little girl who’d been injured in the war in Eritrea. Fifty years on, as she begins her retirement, Shirley is pledging a gift in her Will to help Christian Aid rebuild other lives torn apart by conflict and poverty. Lisa Fagan, communications officer with Christian Aid, spoke to Dr Shirley Chee.

Shirley Chee welcomes me into her home in Greystones, County Wicklow. She teaches 4th class at Taney Parish Primary School, a Church of Ireland school in nearby Dundrum. And from the get–go, her passion for teaching and music is clear:

Dr Shirley Chee.
Dr Shirley Chee.

“I love the Old Testament stories. I play the piano and I sing with the children – I do a rollicking good RE lesson”, she laughs.

Born in Limerick and brought up in Killiney, Shirley was the eldest of three children:

“Mum was Baptist and Dad was Brethren but when they married, they joined Dun Laoghaire Methodist Church.”

The family fostered a little girl from The Bird’s Nest, a children’s home in Dun Laoghaire:

“She was from Eritrea and had been injured in the war. She stayed with us at weekends and in the holidays. Eventually her mum was found and she returned to Eritrea.”

This experience sparked a lifelong interest in Africa and by the time she was in her 20s, Shirley was secretary of the Christian Aid group in Dublin Central Mission:

“I was inspired by Rev John Parkin. He was fantastic, a real character. We used to raise money by holding suppers in the church hall – I remember doling out bowls of stew – and we ran sponsored walks.”

By her early 30s, she’d completed a Master’s degree and a PhD in education, specialising in the teaching of music. One summer, during the school holidays, she volunteered at a school in Uganda.

Shirley retired from teaching last week, after a career spanning 40 years. She has decided to leave a gift in her Will to Christian Aid. What prompted her to do it?

“It’s the same reason that I support organ donation – to make sure that what I have is put to good use when I’m gone.”

“I want to help children like the little girl my parents fostered, children displaced by war. And I love the way that Christian Aid helps people boost their incomes by selling honey or vegetables, so they can send their children to school.”

She adds: “Justice is very important to me, I want to be fair and equal to all. It’s the reason I have always supported Fair Trade and Traidcraft.”

Justice was important in deciding how to divide out her assets:

“I don’t have very much, just this house, but I decided that I would give a tenth to God – that’s the share Christian Aid will receive. The rest is being divided out among the people in my life, including my niece and nephew and my four stepchildren.”

Although Shirley’s marriage ended recently, her relationship with her stepchildren remains strong.

How is she planning to spend her time in retirement?

“I love art and gardening and music, of course. I play the piano, the recorder and the cello and I sing in a choir.”

Will the Wicklow hills be alive with The Sound of Music, I wonder? She laughs.

Like the governess–turned–stepmother to the Von Trapp children in the famous musical, our heroine Shirley is a teacher and stepmother, a singer and musician. Like Maria, she’s fun–loving, kind–hearted and guided by a strong moral compass. Now that she has retired, you get the feeling that a whole new chapter in Shirley’s life is about to begin. And the beginning, as we learn in the musical, is a very good place to start.


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