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HER POETRY DELIGHTED PINELLAS READERS

Every week, Shirley Wilson walked to the Gulfport Gabber to deliver another poem, each one as uniquely hers as the plastic rose she wore in her hair.

Her regular poetry column, "Shirl's Pearls," took readers along as she mused - openly and frankly, in crystal clear verse - about her joys and hurts.

Mrs. Wilson, who also saw her work published regularly in the Evening Independent, wrote by hand on lined notebook paper, now faded. A crumbling red photo album holds some of them, fished out of a box in her daughter's garage.

Readers loved her work, including the likes of "Mr. Stanley Squirrel" (With bright penetrating eyes, And a long bushy tail, you thrill me immensely, On my emotions you prevail); "Mr. Jack O'Lantern," celebrating all things spooky; or "Golden Rule" (Are you always kind and helpful to others; Treat all you see as sisters and brothers? Or are you inclined to go your own way, Quite aloof, holding everyone at bay?)

Her poems showed empathy for a homeless man (Did his mother caress his haggard brow? Would anyone want to caress it now?), nature and animals.

The Independent ran her work so often, it got almost embarrassing. It looked like she was the only one turning in any poetry, editors said.

Rather than take a break, Mrs. Wilson adopted at least a dozen pen names, submitting work under the names of friends and relatives.

She turned in "A Purr-Fect Pair," about a man who adopted a stray kitten, under the pen name Danita Weed, her daughter - who had no clue until a high school teacher complimented her on her poem.

"She was so pleased, like she had seen a different side of me," said Danita Weed-Smith. "I was irritated."

A native of Springfield, S.C., Mrs. Wilson attended the University of South Carolina with the goal of becoming an English teacher, but instead married and brought up five children. In 1969, she moved to Gulfport with her third husband, Joseph, then found work as a secretary at St. Anthony's Hospital.

She relished her poetry group, walks along Gulfport Beach with her chihuahua, Colonel, and the responses of Shirl's Pearls fans - which, over time, included her daughter.

"I appreciate the fact that she did that now," said Weed-Smith, 47. "I didn't realize how important it was to her then. I can see what she was thinking."

Mrs. Wilson began what may have been her last poem in 1999, a prayer for courage in the face of advancing dementia.

She never finished it.

Mrs. Wilson died Thursday, at Pinellas Park Care and Rehabilitation Center.

She was 84.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

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Biography

Shirley Harley Wilson

Born: May 24, 1926.

Died: June 24, 2010.

Survivors: Sons Timothy Danby and Nelson Weed; daughters Dianne Belbeisi and Danita Weed-Smith.

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