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Shirley DeGrey, 90, educator and civic leader

She was well known for her work as a staffer on the Valley Sun.

April 10, 2013|By Carol Cormaci, carol.cormaci@latimes.com
  • Shirley DeGrey plays the piano in January 2003 prior to the La Canada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce and Community Association's annual installation dinner.
Shirley DeGrey plays the piano in January 2003 prior to… (File Photo )

Shirley Millikan DeGrey, who arrived in La Cañada with the wave of the post-WW II settlers and made her mark in education and many civic endeavors here, died March 30 at the age of 90.

DeGrey, who also covered school and other events for the Valley Sun after retiring from teaching in the La Cañada Unified School District, was known for her enthusiasm, her devotion to family and friends and for her deep love of music.

"Shirley was a dear friend of mine from the moment I moved here more than 40 years ago," said Dorothy Maddux. "To me she just exemplified what a friend is: so caring and helpful. She was somebody you just knew had your back."

It was Maddux who, as a staff writer for the Valley Sun in the early 1980s, coaxed DeGrey into filling in for her while she took a vacation. DeGrey's work so impressed Joe DuPlain, the paper's owner at the time, that she was invited to stay on after Maddux returned.

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Known for banging out her colorful stories quickly on her old Smith Corona typewriter, DeGrey endeared herself to the paper's small newsroom and the community beyond. In her later years, she was particularly proud when she established a schools page that she filled with articles and photos of children, educators and parent classroom volunteers. Her final assignment was to write a column called "Shirley's Sunshine," in which she ruminated on the beauty of La Cañada and life here. She typed her final column about 10 years ago.

The daughter of C.E. "Pat" Millikan and Gertrude P. Millikan, DeGrey was born Dec. 14, 1922, and raised in Glendale. In 1943 she graduated from USC, where she was named Helen of Troy. She married Richard "Dick" DeGrey in 1943. Buying a parcel on Woodfield Road that previously served as part of the defunct Flintridge Country Club golf course, they built a home there in 1951-52 and remained there throughout their respective lifetimes. Dick DeGrey, a former city commissioner, preceded his wife in death in late 2010.

Her son, Rich DeGrey, said music was an important part of her life, "especially her gifted talent to play the piano," often by ear. She taught music in the local schools, played and taught the guitar, donated a set of handbells to her church, La Cañada United Methodist, and directed and played in its handbell choir. She also sang in the church choir for many years, he said.

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