Shirley DeGrey

Shirley DeGrey plays the piano in January 2003 prior to the La Canada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce and Community Association's annual installation dinner. (File Photo / April 10, 2013)

Shirley Millikan DeGrey, who arrived in La Cañada with the wave of the post-WW II settlers and made her mark in education and many civic endeavors here, died March 30 at the age of 90.

DeGrey, who also covered school and other events for the Valley Sun after retiring from teaching in the La Cañada Unified School District, was known for her enthusiasm, her devotion to family and friends and for her deep love of music.

"Shirley was a dear friend of mine from the moment I moved here more than 40 years ago," said Dorothy Maddux. "To me she just exemplified what a friend is: so caring and helpful. She was somebody you just knew had your back."

It was Maddux who, as a staff writer for the Valley Sun in the early 1980s, coaxed DeGrey into filling in for her while she took a vacation. DeGrey's work so impressed Joe DuPlain, the paper's owner at the time, that she was invited to stay on after Maddux returned.

Known for banging out her colorful stories quickly on her old Smith Corona typewriter, DeGrey endeared herself to the paper's small newsroom and the community beyond. In her later years, she was particularly proud when she established a schools page that she filled with articles and photos of children, educators and parent classroom volunteers. Her final assignment was to write a column called "Shirley's Sunshine," in which she ruminated on the beauty of La Cañada and life here. She typed her final column about 10 years ago.

The daughter of C.E. "Pat" Millikan and Gertrude P. Millikan, DeGrey was born Dec. 14, 1922, and raised in Glendale. In 1943 she graduated from USC, where she was named Helen of Troy. She married Richard "Dick" DeGrey in 1943. Buying a parcel on Woodfield Road that previously served as part of the defunct Flintridge Country Club golf course, they built a home there in 1951-52 and remained there throughout their respective lifetimes. Dick DeGrey, a former city commissioner, preceded his wife in death in late 2010.

Her son, Rich DeGrey, said music was an important part of her life, "especially her gifted talent to play the piano," often by ear. She taught music in the local schools, played and taught the guitar, donated a set of handbells to her church, La Cañada United Methodist, and directed and played in its handbell choir. She also sang in the church choir for many years, he said.

DeGrey received honors for her volunteer work within La Cañada. Chief among those awards were when she and her husband were co-winners of the La Cañadan of the Year title for 1983; the year before, they were recipients of a Les Tupper community service award. An early and generous donor to the "Save Our Schools" fundraising committee, which has since become the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, DeGrey was given its Spirit of Outstanding Service award in 1997. In that same year, she was given the PTA Council's Continuing Service award and named an honorary life member of the organization.

When her children were school-age, DeGrey was a Girl Scout leader, a Cub Scout den mother, president of Band Mothers, and president of the PTA at Oak Grove Elementary School. Later she became involved in the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. as a float decorator, and in Kiwanis, with her husband.

In addition to her son, Rich, who lives in La Cañada Flintridge, DeGrey is survived by a daughter, Barbara Weldon, of Tucson, and by another son, Stephen DeGrey, who lives in Palmdale. She also leaves three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, at La Cañada United Methodist Church.

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