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Celebration of Life
SHIRLEY ANN Thomson (Watson Williams Smith Burbank), daughter of the late Reginald G. Thomson and Irl Browning Thomson, was born on July 14, 1931 in Frankfort, Kansas. After 92 years of a faith-filled life, she transitioned home, after a short battle with cancer, on December 26, 2023.
She had a happy childhood, despite challenges of the Great Depression, growing up with her parents and three siblings in the very small town of Irving, KS. Her core values (faith in God, strong work ethic, support of community and family, and love for ALL people) were developed and nurtured as she grew up there, surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Shirley attended the University of Kansas and graduated in 1953 with a degree in Education and a minor in History. While at KU her belief in social justice was put into action when she stood with other students to integrate the “Lunch counter” restaurant on campus. After graduation she moved to Chicago, earned a Master’s degree in Church Social Work at McCormick Theological Seminary in 1955, and later worked at Howell Neighborhood House (a community center helping youth and their families) as a social worker.
In 1959 Shirely married William (Bill) C. Watson Jr. (who was putting his Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania to good use working with youth-at-risk on the South Side). They found common ground in their shared social activism. They had two children together, and the family eventually settled in the Washington DC area in 1965. Shirley had a 17-year career as a school teacher (most with Brightwood Elementary School in DC); started several entrepreneurial ventures including a Roommate Referral Service; and worked 20 years as a Realtor. She succeeded in all these careers with a winning combination of highly effective people skills, building bridges to find common ground, along with good old-fashioned grit and determination!
Shirley remained steadfast in her work as a fighter for Civil Rights over the next six decades of her life: in Chicago she met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marched with husband Bill to integrate beaches; she was among the many gathered in Montgomery, Alabama after the march from Selma in 1965; her family integrated the neighborhood swim club in 1967; she fought to end race-based practices and marched to integrate apartment buildings in Silver Spring, MD; and she worked with at-risk children in DC.
Shirley was resilient. She shouldered the unexpected role of caregiver during her marriage to Charlie Williams (who, after six-years together, lost a short battle with cancer in early 1988); and after 15 years with husband Nicholas Smith (before a long cancer journey claimed him in 2003). Shirley never stopped fighting for things in which she believed. She raised money for youth programs, wrote children’s books, and participated in the “Million Mom March.”
She began her “golden years” when, at 75 years young, she married Carl Burbank Jr. in 2006. They eventually settled in Ellicott City, MD where they became active members of the Glen Mar Church. During this time, she enjoyed numerous annual family get-togethers with her children, in-laws, and granddaughter. Her blended family continued to expand as it had done with each new relationship. Husband Carl passed in 2019. She lived out her remaining years inher son’s home, in Maryland. Shirley worked with and advocated for youth her entire life and made a tremendous
impact on children and families.
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Shirley leaves to cherish her memories her loving children: son, William C. Watson III (wife Milande and granddaughter Colette); and daughter, Vanessa Watson Ford (husband Michael). She was predeceased by her siblings, Marian (Thomson) Scheirman, David Thomson, and Martha (Thomson) Nance. She also leaves behind a legacy of the next generation of nieces, nephews, and cousins; and a blended family that spans four generations.
To celebrate and honor Shirley Ann Burbank
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation (tax deductible) in her name to one of the following worthwhile organizations. Your gift can help to continue the blessings of her legacy. Thank you!
Cancer touched Shirley and our family many times in many ways.
American Cancer Society
Vision to end cancer as we know it. Through advocacy, research, and patient support, to improve prevention, detection, treatment, and cancer survival. (Select: Dedicate a donation in Memory of: Shirley Ann Burbank and use email: email@example.com for e-Card recipient)
Shirley’s home church for the last 15 years.
Glen Mar Church
Glen Mar is the kind of church that: feeds hungry people, builds houses for our neighbors, welcomes people of every age, nation, race, and background. (Select: Capital Campaign and add in “Memo” box: Shirley Burbank)
Shirley worked with and advocated for youth her entire life.
Sasha Bruce Youthwork
Sasha Bruce helps young people find safe homes, achieve good physical and mental health, create supportive and stable families, and explore opportunities in education and careers. (Select: Dedicate a donation in Memory of: Shirley Ann Burbank and use email: firstname.lastname@example.org for e-Card recipient)
Glen Mar United Methodist Church
4701 New Cut Road
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Services to be held February 10, 2024 @ 11:00am
Pastor E. Amanda Sayers
Professional Services Entrusted to:
Harry H. Witzke’s Family Funeral Home
4112 Old Columbia Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043