Shirley J. (Tankard) Robinson died peacefully on Nov. 29 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, surrounded by family and friends. She was 83.

Born on March 26, 1936 in New York city to George V. and Audria B. (Thomas) Tankard, Shirley was the eldest daughter in a family of 10 children.

When the Tankards moved to Roselle, N.J., she attended Abraham Clark High School. Following a move to Newark, she met and married Ralph F. Robinson. They had three sons: Ralph, Jr., Michael, and Robert (Fuzzy). A daughter, Gayle, died shortly after birth.

In October 1965, Shirley moved to the Vineyard with her sons to begin a remarkable journey in a new role as single parent. Her first job was as a staff member at the Wood Chips gift store. Weekend nights found her serving up burgers and frappes to Island teens at the Youth Center. After taking several courses at Simmons College, she secured the position of assistant director of the center alongside Doug Fortes. She eventually became director at the urging of Tom Bennett at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which ran the program.

At the Youth Center for 17 years, Shirley came into her own. She became a true mentor and friend, encouraging and supporting many Island adolescents. She became deeply involved in various fundraising efforts, including the Red Stocking Fund and Possible Dreams Auction, the annual chowder fest, and volunteering at the Thrift Shop, one of her favorite places.

She reinvented herself again when she began work at the Tisbury School as assistant cook with Sheila Decosta. She eventually replaced Sheila as head cook and put her unique culinary talents to work, quickly earning the beloved title of Lunch Lady. Fortunate are they who have tasted her cooking, especially her famous mac and cheese. After 15 years of dedicated service to the children and staff at the school, she retired her Lunch Lady crown in 2001. She continued feeding the community during the Tisbury Street Fair for another years, working alongside her mom and sisters who supplied the Vineyard’s Best Fried Chicken every year to sellout crowds.

Volunteering and cooking were fond activities, but Shirley’s biggest passion was her family. She worked hard to ensure that her sons had the best education that she could provide and her grandchildren — her true pride and joy — brought her immense joy and fulfillment.

Her favorite hobby was scouring yard sales. She would haggle and cajole for the best price, taking great pride in her discoveries. Many a friend or family member found a treasure on their doorstep — Shirl was generous and thoughtful that way. She basked in the blessings of the love and gratitude all gave her in return. The Island community will miss the love, laughter, and wisdom that she shared so willingly.

Shirley was predeceased by her parents, George Sr. and Audria Tankard; brothers, George Jr. and Reginald Tankard; her son Robert (Fuzzy), and daughter Gayle.

She is survived by her sons, Ralph Jr., and Michael Robinson, and their spouses; three grandchildren; her sisters, Merle Beaulieu, Patricia Tankard, Myrna Araujo, Brenda Tankard, Audria Tankard, Carol Giosmas; her brother Robert Tankard; three grandchildren and three generations of nieces and nephews.

Visiting hours will be on Wednesday, Dec. 4 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Chapman, Cole, and Gleason Funeral Home. Services will be held at St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 11 a.m.

Interment will follow in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Oak Bluffs, with a reception at the Portuguese American Club.

Donations can be made to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, 111 Edgartown Road; or to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 1748, both in Vineyard Haven MA 02568.

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