Shirley Kessler


KENNEBUNK, MAINE – Shirley Kessler, an inspiration who lived her life as the embodiment of kindness and empathy, passed away in Kennebunk on Aug. 15.

A passionate educator, wife, mother, and friend, Shirley was a prominent member of the Block Island community and the Sons and Daughters of Ruth congregation.

Born in Providence to Samuel I. and Minnie (Horowitz) Bassing, Shirley graduated from Hope High School and earned a B.A. at Rhode Island College, an M.A. from Boston University, and an Ed.D. from Walden University.

Shirley began her career as an educator as a first grade teacher in Attleboro, Massachusetts. After earning her master's degree she began teaching at Rhode Island College, where she developed a wholistic approach to evaluating children, a program which was a precursor to many of today's methods of assessing students in need of special education support.

From there Shirley moved to the East Providence school district, where she was an administrator, overseeing the district's reading curriculum and programming while serving at various times as an adjunct professor of education at Salve Regina University, Providence College and Rhode Island College.

Shirley had a lifelong affinity for Block Island, where she first visited as an infant. Some years later she introduced her future husband, Sanford, to the island. By the middle of the 20th century the two were spending summers there. In the 1970s they bought the building that had previously housed the Primitive Methodist Church, and when they retired in 1990 moved there permanently. Shirley was an extraordinarily involved citizen of the Block Island community who served on the school committee and tourism council for many years. She also began the "Friends of the Library" and regularly volunteered at the annual "Roll Call Dinner" at Block Island's Harbor Church.

Shirley's husband, Sanford B. Kessler of 52 years, predeceased her in 2000. She is survived by two children, both of whom she treasured, and who cherished her: daughter Fran Kessler of Kennebunk, Maine, and son Samuel and his wife, Evelyn, of Haymarket, Virginia. She is also survived by her cousin, Joyce Aaron, of Orleans, Massachusetts.

Memorial donations may be made to the Block Island Library, the Block Island Historical Society, and/or Block Island Medical Center.