Shirley Reiss died on April 2 after a short struggle with cancer. She was 87.

She was born on Dec. 6, 1933, in Cambridge to Thelma and Earl Richardson, Canadian immigrants who had left their family farms in New Brunswick in the 1920s to settle in Waltham, where her father worked as a self-employed electrician. Shirley’s fondest childhood memories were of the long summers spent at her grandparents’ remote, self-sustaining farm in Canada. Her mother was a certified nurse, who stopped practicing shortly after Shirley and her younger brother Donald were born. While Shirley’s mother taught her to care for others, and passed on her cooking skills and appreciation for good food, her short-lived career would encourage her daughter to seek broader horizons.

She attended the Banks school in Waltham and later graduated from Wellesley College. She traveled to Europe in 1962 where she met her first husband Michel Schiff, a French researcher in physics and the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled Germany in 1930 to settle in Paris. They had two children, André and Claire.

After her divorce in 1972, Shirley worked as an English teacher for IBM Paris until 1982, while raising her children and studying to obtain a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Paris.

In 1984 she returned to the U.S. and her home town of Waltham. After some years working as an English as a second language teacher in Fitchburg public schools, she met her second husband Richard Reiss, a longtime summer resident of Menemsha. They spent the next 20 years of their retirement traveling abroad, enjoying the Vineyard and their grandchildren.

Shirley remained active to the end, engaged in social justice through her volunteer work. She became a board member and later chairwoman for Common Cause Massachusetts and was particularly active in promoting campaign finance reform. She also volunteered for more than 20 years at the Cambridge Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (recently renamed De Novo) as a therapist for immigrants and asylum-seekers and low-income people. She felt that helping those who had suffered the traumas of war and conflict to heal and obtain asylum was one of the most enriching experiences of her life.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

Donations can be made to De Novo ( or to Common Cause Massachusetts (