Farewell to Shirley Shelby

Shirley Shelby

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Shirley Shelby on Tuesday, August 24th, 2021. Shirley was Ontario Blind Sports Association’s (OBSA) past president and an iconic figure in the world of blind sports.

Shirley Shelby was a passionate and an inspirational leader in sports for the physically disabled for over 40 years. Her dedication to serving the blind and visually impaired community began at the Summer Games in 1981; discovering the limitations that persons with a disability face when travelling, she decided to start her own travel agency which specialized in travel for individuals with special needs. Through her leadership and enthusiasm, she was able to alter airline travel policies and procedures to create better ease of travel for persons with a disability. Shirley had a fervent love for sport, quickly becoming a founding member of Sport for Disabled Ontario (now ParaSport Ontario) and Ontario Blind Sports Association (OBSA).

For over 40 years, Shirley has devoted herself through her work with OBSA and ParaSport Ontario to help Canadians with a disability realize the benefits that sports and physical activity can bring. She has steered the ship through program and athlete development in blind sport, all while balancing books and handling the politics of the industry with grace and steadfast leadership. Shirley always served and stood up for the needs of persons living a disability. All of her efforts have positively impacted the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Canadians with a physical disability; some that have gone on to win multiple medals at international competitions and others that have simply felt the lifelong benefits that sport can provide. All of these successes can be attributed to Shirley’s initiative and influence as a leader.

Shirley went on to receive multiple awards for her work; in 1991 she won the Ron Foster Award where she was recognized for her volunteerism at the provincial level; in 2008, she was a King Clancy Award recipient, recognized for her dedication to delivering opportunities for athletes with a physical disability in sport and recreation; and in 2013, Shirley was inducted at the Ontario Blind Sports Association Hall of Fame. Shirley’s accolades expand further, also receiving honours at the Ontario Sport Awards and the Toronto Sports Hall of Honour Lifetime Achievement award. Her last award was given to her in 2017 at the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. Shirley’s love to serve others has made her a well-deserving recipient of her many awards, and her efforts are recognized at the local, provincial, and national level for the many battles she has fought and won for people with a disability.

Shirley Shelby selflessly devoted her time and effort to create more opportunities in competitive and recreational sports for persons with a disability. Her unwavering dedication and hard work helped develop a strong community of sport for persons with a physical disability and public awareness that all persons are able. Whatever needed to be done, Shirley was there and could always be counted on, always focused on what it means to be an athlete. She has given as much to her OBSA family as she has her own, always driven by her dedication and passion for helping others. Much of the evolution of the Paralympic movement can be attributed to the foundation that Shirley helped lay. Shirley’s spirit, passion, dedication, humor and support will be greatly missed.