Teacher, sister, aunt, woman of vision, good-luck charm. Born Sept. 20, 1957, in Montreal, died Jan. 11, 2012, in Davie, Fla., of complications from muscular dystrophy, aged 54.
When Shelley Obrand was in graduate school pursuing a master’s degree in education, a professor told her she would never make it as a teacher. He thought that her being in a wheelchair with very limited mobility meant the profession was beyond her capabilities.
Shelley’s quiet but determined response, as she related on many occasions, was: “Yes I will. You’ll see what I can do.”
Shelley was 8 when her parents, Mike and Suzanne, were given the devastating news that their beautiful little girl was afflicted by a neuromuscular disorder called muscular dystrophy. At that time the prognosis wasn’t good, and it was thought unlikely that Shelley would see her 24th birthday – let alone her 54th.
The slow degeneration of her muscles had already begun, and she had increasing difficulty in walking and doing other ordinary tasks. The harsh Montreal winters added to the burden, so when Shelley was 10, the family, including her younger brother Danny, moved to Florida. Within a year, Shelley needed a wheelchair.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and two masters’ degrees in science and special education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
With a strong love for children and desire to teach, Shelley created and ran the successful Super Kids after-school program for children with learning disabilities. She helped develop the program in the 1980s and worked there until her last days.
In her final years, Shelley’s mobility was limited to just one finger. It was enough to operate her electric wheelchair, and also served as a powerful example to her young students. Seeing their teacher conduct herself in such a professional manner despite tremendous physical disability was an incredible inspiration for them.
She received numerous awards and accolades, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s personal achievement award in 1993. In 2004, the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel honoured Shelley as a Woman of Vision for her work in the field of education.
Shelley was also present at more than 30 MDA Telethons, including several on-camera interviews and features with host Jerry Lewis. The two developed a close bond.
Jerry often described Shelley as his “good-luck charm” and would say he would never do the Telethon without her being there (she did miss a few in 30 years).
Using just one finger, and often dependent on a ventilator at night, Shelley maintained contact with a wide circle of friends and family through telephone, e-mail and Facebook. She never missed anyone’s birthday.
Shelley was able to accomplish so much through the devotion and love of her parents – her father who passed away in 1999 and her mother who was with her until the end.
Ron Singer is Shelley’s cousin.