Former principal Dr. Shirley passes away, leaves legacy

by Rosalie Chan, Web Editor

With a legacy of working as principal for 25 years, Dr. Tom Shirley, former principal, passed away Dec. 2 at age 82.
In 1956, Dr. Shirley started teaching math at Arlington High School.  He became assistant principal at WHS when it opened in 1964.  The next year, he became principal.  He has worked at WHS ever since, until he retired in 1990.
“He really made Wheeling High School what it was for the first 25 years of its existence.  He was actually principal longer than all the rest of us combined,” Dr. Lazaro Lopez, principal, said.
Dr. Lopez recalls how when he was first hired as principal, Dr. Shirley reached out to him and called him to talk about the history of WHS.
WHS became the first school in District 214 to win a Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence from the U.S. Department of Education.
Dr. Shirley’s legacy also includes WHS becoming the first suburban school in 1969 to start a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, as well as the creation of the school library, which was named in honor of him in 2001.
Neil Weiner, physical education teacher and wrestling coach, recalls Dr. Shirley’s support of Wildcat athletics and felt sad when he heard about Dr. Shirley’s passing.  Dr. Shirley hired Mr. Weiner in 1987.
“At the time, I was a young coach…He really supported the Wheeling athletics and came to the wrestling matches,” Mr. Weiner said.  “He hired me, so I owe him some gratitude to coach for the district.  I could not have found a better school.”
After Dr. Shirley retired, he still attended WHS events, such as the Hometown Celebration and Hall of Fame Nights.  He will be inducted in the Athletic Hall of Fame on Jan. 25.
“I was sad for a number of reasons because this year, as luck would have it, in January, he’s being inducted in the Athletic Hall of Fame.  I’m sure he would’ve been proud he would be inducted,” Dr. Steve May, assistant principal of student activities, said.  “He set the foundation for principals here…His life for all those years was Wheeling High School.”

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