Shirley grew up in Moro, Illinois, and attended high school in neighboring Alton. She majored in English and drama at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating summa cum laude with a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1950. After spotting a cryptic message on a university job board announcing that a “government agency” was interviewing graduates, in 1952 Shirley found herself working as a case officer for the CIA in Vienna, Austria. Reporting to the head of operations, she worked on the Soviet desk handling undercover surveillance, photographic analysis and profiling measures targeting Soviet agents.
Returning from a ski trip to Salzburg, Austria aboard the daily U.S. military train known as “The Mozart Express,” Shirley met U.S. Army Sergeant Robert S. Perry of the 430th Counter-Intelligence Detachment; the couple married in Vienna in 1954, after Robert received CIA clearance to marry an operative. Shirley and Robert continued their intelligence careers until 1964, serving in Washington D.C. and Munich, Germany after their tour in Vienna. In 1970, Robert’s new job with the First National Bank of Boston brought them back to Europe, to Luxembourg, where Shirley founded the American School of Luxembourg, the first English-language school in the country, and served as its director and board chair.
Upon the family’s return to the States in 1974, Shirley settled with her family in Manchester, Massachusetts. There she became involved in political groups centered on women’s issues, including the local League of Women Voters and the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, for which she chaired the Education Committee. Shirley became an ardent advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment and attended the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas. Increasingly more engaged with politics, in 1980 she spearheaded local campaign efforts on behalf of Republican presidential candidate John B. Anderson and was named a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1981, the family relocated again, to Toronto, Ontario, where Shirley attended graduate school and earned an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University in 1984. She worked at the consultancy Arthur D. Little in Toronto, and then, back in Massachusetts, served as the political and economic adviser to the Canadian Consulate in Boston from 1987 to 1994. During this time, Shirley rekindled her love for the theater as a member of the Fenway Players and the Chekhov Company at Boston University. With the Fenway Players she performed the lead role of Arkadina in The Seagull in 1992, and the following year traveled to Russia with the Chekhov Company for the Chekov Drama Festival in Yalta.
After several years in the pharmaceutical industry, Shirley retired in 1999 and settled in Oxford, Mississippi, the home of one of her favorite authors, William Faulkner. Inspired by the rich literary history of this college town, Shirley worked on a memoir, receiving encouragement from writers such as Barry Hannah. She also volunteered at the Interfaith Compassion Ministry, served as a board member of the local Arts Council, and became secretary of the Lafayette County Democratic Committee. Shirley even found time to continue her thespian pursuits, performing with Theater Oxford and appearing as an extra in several movies filmed in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, including the Academy Award-winning 21 Grams.
Shirley published her memoir, After Many Days: My Life as a Spy and Other Grand Adventures, in 2010 and embarked on a speaking tour around the country, which culminated in a talk at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. (available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/spycast/id201680433?i=1000089826750).
After 16 years in Oxford, Shirley moved to Skaneateles in 2015 to be closer to family. She was an active member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and enjoyed attending her grandson’s school and sports events.
Shirley will be remembered for her adventurousness and passion for travel, her independence, her conviction and resolve, her abiding faith, her devotion to her family, her generosity to her friends, her erudition and grammar, her grace and style, and her fondness for liberal pundits, leopard print and espresso.
Shirley is survived by her children, Andrea and Robert (Andrea), her grandson George, and her sister, Marilyn. A funeral/memorial service will be held at 11:00 AM on Friday, October 20, at Robert D. Gray Funeral Home in Skaneateles. To send condolences, visit: https://www.robertdgrayfuneralhome.com/.
Andrea and Robert would like to thank the staff at the Finger Lakes Center for Living for their kindness and compassion in caring for Shirley, particularly in her last days.