Sunday, March 23, 2014

Amazing story: Tom and Naomi Shirley both died of heat attacks, at the same hospital, unknown to each other, fifteen minutes apart … by gimleteye

Tom and Naomi Shirley both died of heat attacks, at the same hospital, unknown to each other.

By Robert Nolin, Sun Sentinel - March 18, 2014

In more than four decades of married life, Tom Shirley, a former state game warden, explored the Everglades — and more distant locales — with his wife Naomi at his side.

Saturday, the couple embarked on their final adventure together. They died separately at the same hospital, 15 minutes apart, unknown to each other.

Tom Shirley, 83, was taken to the Cleveland Clinic with heart problems Saturday afternoon. Naomi Shirley, 75, succumbed to a heart attack herself after being summoned from their Southwest Ranches home for what doctors said may be a last visit with her husband.

"On her way to the hospital, she passed away with a heart attack," said their son, Troy. His father had died about 15 minutes earlier.

"It's profoundly sad, but except for being so sad it's truly romantic," friend Barbara Jean Powell said.

"Dad didn't know that she had passed, and she didn't know that he had passed," Troy Shirley said. "I don't understand it, but it's beautiful."

Tom Shirley was widely known among Everglades supporters, both in government and private circles. For 30 years, from 1955 through 1985, he worked in the Everglades as a game warden for the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, which later became the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Tom was passionate about Everglades restoration," Powell said.

"He had been involved in Everglades issues for decades, every aspect of them," said Jorge Gutierrez, past president of the Everglades Coordinating Council. "He was exploring God's creation."

Tom Shirley was born in Texas and moved to South Florida at age 3. He discovered the Everglades as a young man when he drove there in his first car. He later owned a camp north of Alligator Alley.

"He fell in love with the Everglades," Troy Shirley said. "He spent a lot of time there, him and mom both."

Naomi Shirley was born in West Virginia and later moved to Hialeah. The couple met at the drug store where Naomi worked. They married in 1969, and Naomi Shirley worked as a nurse until her retirement.

During his years as a game warden, Tom Shirley witnessed the transition of the Everglades from wild and woolly exploitation to restoration of environmental damage. "He saw a great deal of that transformation," said Chuck Collins, the FWC's South Florida regional director. "They didn't realize the value of the wetlands back then."

After leaving the game commission, Tom Shirley wrote a book about his experiences, "Everglades Patrol."

"His life was just a book of its own," said Freddy Fisikelli, another former president of the Everglades Coordinating Council. "He was out in the glades probably just before anybody."

During his retirement, Tom Shirley operated an airboat tour business, offered transportation services to the Everglades for government and environmental groups, and worked with movie producers filming in the Everglades. Besides spending time at their camp, the Shirleys enjoyed wilderness treks in the Amazon and Africa.

"Him and his wife, they went everywhere together," Fisikelli said.

About a year ago Tom Shirley underwent open heart surgery, followed by a lengthy rehabilitation. On Saturday, he felt weak and was taken by ambulance to the Cleveland Clinic in Weston. His wife, who her son said had trouble getting around, stayed home and kept in touch with the hospital. Later that night the hospital called to say Tom Shirley was close to death.

Naomi Shirley tried to drive to the clinic but was felled by a heart attack herself. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital and died within 15 minutes of her husband.

"It must have been such a surprise to him to get to the other side and see her waiting for him," Powell said.

Collins is arranging an FWC honor guard to attend the couple's memorial service. "He was truly a legend," he said.

The couple are survived by four children: Tommy, of DeLand; Troy, of Ocala; Melanie Davis, of Fort Lauderdale; and Ray, of Marble Falls, Texas; and eight living grandchildren. A memorial service will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Fred Hunter's Funeral Home, 2401 S. University Drive, Davie. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, followed by interment at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clewiston.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Florida Wildlife Federation. or 954-356-4525


Ross said...

In Tom Shirley's book: "There has to be a balance, but at what cost? Do we have water for people or water for critters?"

Anonymous said...

This couple were fine people with great kids . May they rest in peace

Anonymous said...

2008: my husband and I were on vacation on a cruise, when the phone in our cabin rang. It was an urgent call from my stepmother, telling me my dad had suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care, barely alive. She told me he was hanging on to life, waiting for me to see him.
I got all hysterical and felt hopeless, as we already visited our last port and were in the middle of the ocean heading back to Miami; couldn't take a plane and fly back...two more days at sea.
My husband was holding me, trying to console me, and the cabin phone rings again. We thought it was to hear that my dad had passed, but, was another urgent call from Miami. This time it was my mother in law, crying , to tell my husband that his father had just suffered a massive heart attack! We couldn't believe it, BOTH of our fathers suffering from heart attacks at the same time! What's even crazier was that they both ended up at the same hospital, at the same time, and they both live in opposite directions. Also, none of them had heart issues, ever!
The following two days at sea were the worst two days ever , as we were desperate and suffering, in an environment of happy people, conga lines, limbo, music everywhere....we stayed in our cabin or the chapel.
Well, sadly, my father in law passed away first and my husband couldn't make it on time to see him. I, was able to see my dad one hour before he toto, passed.
Weird, right?