“You see all them?” Shirley Roberts gestured toward the dozens of cats lazing outside her front gate. “Only two are mine.”

“Then why do you feed all of them?” I asked.

“Well,” she scattered a fistful of kibble on the ground. “They look so much alike, I can’t tell which ones belong to me. And I can’t let the rest go hungry.”

Green Turtle Cay lost one of its most intriguing characters yesterday. Shirley Roberts (affectionately known as “Shell Hut” Shirley, to differentiate her from the other Shirley Roberts in town) passed away unexpectedly in Nassau.

Abaco, Bahamas, Green Turtle Cay, Shirley Roberts, Stray Cats

Sadly, some local folks — particularly the younger generation – only knew Shirley in her later years, when her mind had begun to wander and it was sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction in her stories. But Shirley Roberts was feisty and independent, a woman of many talents who lived a remarkable life.

In addition to being a shrewd businesswoman, Shirley was the first female commercial pilot in the Bahamas. For years, she flew a twin-engine charter plane, transporting tourists, local residents, dignitaries and sick people in need of emergency medical care. Everyone who flew with Shirley recalls her amazing aviation abilities, especially her smooth and gentle landings.

And she didn’t just pilot planes. My cousin, Alton Lowe, tells me that during the years she lived in Nassau, Shirley was part-owner of a private yacht, which she captained singlehandedly.

Alton says Shirley was also musically inclined, a talented singer who often participated in the charming New Plymouth tradition of pre-dawn caroling in the weeks before Christmas.

From as far back as I can remember, Shirley owned The Shell Hut, one of Green Turtle Cay’s original gift shops. In recent years, however, she opened the store less often. Some weeks, she didn’t go in at all. As the souvenirs in her shop window grew dusty and faded, so did her memory. And Shirley became known as the lady with the cats.

Many afternoons, I’d see her at one of the local grocery stores, buying cat food. A local resident once told me he’d counted thirty-eight cats gathered on Shirley’s wall and around her gate, awaiting her return.

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, shirley roberts, stray cats, potcats
bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, potcats, stray cats

And it wasn’t just felines who benefited — Shirley made sure the local pigeons and gulls got their share, too.

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas, Shirley Roberts, Pigeons

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, ” Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character.” I think that’s absolutely true. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat animals. And as Alton said of Shirley, “If she had to, she would give up her own food to be able to feed those cats.”

Shell Hut Shirley was spirited, generous and kind. Until her last days on the cay, she remained sprightly and outgoing, caring for the birds and cats and regaling tourists with her colourful tales. Green Turtle Cay will be a shade less bright without her.

9 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Miss Shirley

  • July 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you Amanda for another wonderful post. I knew Ms Shirley and her Roberts family in Nassau. All of Shirley’s sisters were talented and musically gifted. Shirley’s Dad pastored Glad Tidings Church on Kemp Rd and her sister Pauline was our neighbor for many years on Fowler St.

  • July 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this sorrowful news. I had the pleasure of meeting Shirley on my vacation to GTC with my Mom in Feb. 2013. We always looked forward to seeing her when we went to get our groceries. Sitting in our golf kart, we’d listen to great stories of hers and would even find it somewhat difficult to say good-bye! We looked forward to seeing her again this year and were happy that nothing had changed. There she was carrying that bag of cat food across the street! I hope that there is some love for the cats that she tirelessly loved and cared for! I’m sad to know that she won’t be there on our return next year. It just won’t be the same. Such a giving, beautiful spirit that will be missed!

  • July 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you Amanda. I didn’t know her & now I wish I had.

  • July 13, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Rest in peace Ms. Shirley and thanks for the many wonderful stories. You really are/were a remarkable woman with many significant “firsts” in your life. I’m thankful to be counted among those who were able to make your acquaintance and share some time with you.

  • July 14, 2014 at 5:54 am

    We will miss seeing “Miss Shirley”, sad news for GTC & all of the Bahamas really….so interesting to learn of all the many things she did, what a wonderful free spirit! We received the benefit of her traffic directions more than once. (Esp one day when we went the “wrong way” in kart on road by her home!), but she was always friendly and kind. Can’t help but wonder who will help take care of all the cats…she will be missed by so many…we will be arriving Sat 7/19 so have literally “just missed her”. Jim & gg (Mount Dora, FL)

  • July 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    My father was from Green Turtle Cay, but we lived in Eleuthera. Every summer we would all head over the GTC for vacation. I don’t remember how or when I first came to know Shirley, but I do remember she was still flying somewhat in those days. She was quite the character and I always knew her to be the same whenever you saw her. I hadn’t seen her in years previous to her passing but I did know that her mind had started to slip. I think I may have worked for her once when I was a young man doing some construction in GTC. She was a true Abaco and Bahamian icon.

  • July 16, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Sadly there are now more big holes in the fabric of GTC. We send our sincere wishes to all the other residents for good health. We hope there are no other holes when we return this winter. Peter and Lesley Jarrett, S/V Cloud Nine.
    PS Have seen Tom recently on TV – doesn’t seem right that he’s not in shorts and a T-shirt.

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