Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vaya Con Dios, Amiga

Yvonne's fish turned out to be the only one caught, or even seen that day, winning the tournament.

Gary Graham
March 24, 2010

We lost a dear friend recently who many of you knew and loved as well…Shirley Miller. Our love of Baja and fishing was the foundation for an ongoing friendship that lasted over the years.

Our first encounter with Shirley Miller was at a Vagabundos del Mar event held in San Diego in the mid-seventies. Shirley and her husband, Tom Miller, introduced Yvonne and me to many of the Baja pioneers, including Ray Cannon who wrote about the rugged Baja peninsula, Western Outdoor News founder, Bob Twilliger and Fred and Gloria Jones, founders of the Vagabundos del Mar traveling club.

When Yvonne and I married in 1979, Tom and Shirley attended our wedding reception. They proudly and unpretentiously presented us with a gift wrapped in a brown paper shopping bag…a huge piece of brain coral discovered on an obscure Baja beach. It was one of our favorite pieces and it was displayed on a special shelf at our Baja home Rancho Deluxe.

Tom and Shirley signed on as the crew on our boat, the Watercloset for a Vagabundos del Mar marlin tournament in San Diego. With reports of no local marlin for the week preceding the event, I pointed our 30' Pacemaker south at midnight and headed out to sea. With everyone sleeping below, I enjoyed the smooth downhill ride, but as the dark faded into gray, the wind increased and the size of the swells grew.

By the time daylight settled in, it was obvious we were going to take a beating going uphill when we headed home. Mid-day, the rod bent and the clicker wailed; Tom, Shirley and I exchanged dubious looks as Yvonne reached for the rod. It was not pretty. The swell had built, the wind was ripping and salt spray cascaded over the stern as I backed the boat down toward the fleeing fish. Yvonne braced herself between the bait tank and gunnels with Shirley trying to help Yvonne remain upright. All three of them were wet from head to toe from the cold spray when Tom realized that the salt spray was building on Yvonne’s prescription glasses. Wanting to help, he removed the glasses to clean them before realizing that she is practically blind without them and the marlin was jumping closer and closer to the side of the boat. Needless to say, the cockpit was filled with laughter as Shirley tried to fit the glasses back on Yvonne’s head as the boat rocked from side to side.

Finally with the marlin secured on the swim step, we began the long slog uphill, with Shirley and Yvonne laying flat on salon floor bouncing a few feet off each time we hit another wave. Ever the consummate traveler, regardless of conditions, I could hear Shirley’s laughter from the bridge.

After barely making the weigh-in deadline, Yvonne's fish turned out to be the only one caught, or even seen that day, winning the tournament.

Shirley's love of Baja began at a family owned trailer, south of Ensenada on Corona Beach, where many lifelong friendships were formed. Later, she and Tom constantly traveled the back roads and beaches of Baja California, writing about their adventures. The two of them established the Mexico West Travel Club and Newsletter, with a member subscription of over 6,000, which offered helpful travel information about Baja. She enjoyed deep sea sport fishing and was a member of the Newport Harbor Lady Anglers. In addition, Shirley found time to be a freelance travel writer for numerous other sport fishing, travel and Mexico publications.

We remained friends with both Shirley and Tom even when their marriage ended in 1985. Shirley remained a close friend and with our love for Baja in common, our paths seemed to become more and more entwined.

Expanding her love of travel, she became fascinated with Costa Rica. Always the avid writer, she created and co-founded another successful travel newsletter, the Costa Rican Outlook.

In 2000, Shirley moved to Camas, Washington to be closer to her family. She continued to use her writing skills as an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) holding positions of treasurer and editor of their newsletter, where our bond of friendship deepened.

Over the years Shirley's influence has had significant impact on many. We are honored to be included in that group. Shirley was many things to us: Baja buddy, friend, confidant and protagonist and we will remember her infectious smile and love of life often.

Always the fighter, when she suffered a severe stroke in December of 2008, with grit and determination she managed to continue living independently. She and I spoke almost every week, and I could feel her struggle, and realized what a fighter Shirley was. It was Valentine's Day this year when she was taken to the hospital with an unknown illness. Less than a month later on Friday, March 12, 2010 with her family at her side, she passed away. A celebration of Shirley’s life will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 3rd at Journey Community Church 304 4th Street in Camas, Washington.

The world was a brighter place with Shirley in it, and her loss will be felt by many, many people. Always a giver, her contributions to everyone whose life she touched was immense…whether it was a smile, a kind, encouraging word or support. There is an empty spot in our lives; Shirley will be missed.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made in her memory to Journey Community Church, PO Box 110, Camas, WA 98607 or Soroptimist International of Camas/Washougal, PO Box 621, Camas, WA 98607.