Mary Louise West Shedd

Mary Louise West Shedd

Mary Louise West Shedd

ALTAMONT —  Mary Louise West Shedd of Altamont was a loving wife and mother who, her son said, “was always happy in her own company” — sometimes knitting; other times reading or listening to opera; or writing letters, often with newspaper clips enclosed, to people she cared about.

Jerome Shedd went on, “When we all needed to shelter in place for the pandemic, she said to me, ‘Social distancing, that’s what I do.’”

She died at the Schenectady Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. She was 98.

Mrs. Shedd was attuned to nature — she watched the birds and she monitored the weather. She skied in the winters and hiked in the summers.

She was still walking the trails of Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar into her 98th year.

She was born in a mill in Salisbury, Vermont, on Feb. 10, 1923. Her father, Francis West, leased the mill and used the downstairs to grind grain and press cider while the family lived upstairs. He was a skilled machinist who had made weapons during World War I at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and, during World War II, helped build the first atomic bomb in New Mexico, Mr. Shedd said.

Her mother, Ruby (née Nichols) West, was a registered nurse who stayed home to raise her children when they were young. Mrs. Shedd was the middle of three children. Her older brother, Paul, was born in 1919 and her younger brother, Roger, was born in 1931. In the 1940s, Mrs. West became a public-health nurse.

As a girl, Mrs. Shedd “liked school, liked the outdoors, and liked being on skis,” said her son. “In high school, she wrote a poem about skiing through a favorite winter spot.”

She was a graduate of Middlebury High School in Vermont, which was unusual at the time. Her family had to pay tuition and drive her daily to Middlebury, eight miles from Salisbury.

After high school, Mrs. Shedd earned a certificate in Child Care Technology at St. Margaret’s Home, an orphanage in Albany. She was then hired to care for David and Sylvia Keiser’s two boys; the Keisers were musicians and had homes in Middlebury, Connecticut, and Manhattan.

“David got her tickets to see ‘Carmen’ at the Met,” said Mr. Shedd of the Metropolitan Opera House. The Keisers’ names, he said, are carved in marble at the new Metropolitan Opera House that opened in 1966 in Lincoln Center.

During World War II, Mrs. Shedd served in the Cadet Nurse Corps. “To free up registered nurses during the war, the federal government created the corps to train women for free to work in hospitals,” said Mr. Shedd.

Mrs. Shedd was training in Montreal when, in October 1945, she and a friend, on a lark, decided to fly back to Vermont during some free time. Two days later, Mrs. Shedd attended a dance in Wallingford, Vermont.

Robert Clarence Shedd — the man who would become her husband — had just gotten out of the Marine Corps and was at the dance, too, with his family.

“My Grandfather Shedd said, ‘Hey, Bob, why don’t you dance with that nurse?’” Mr. Shedd went on, telling a familiar family story. “It was love at first sight.”

The couple married in June 1946. Their union ended only with Robert Shedd’s death on June 12, 2010.

“Mom wanted to start a family right away. They had me in May 1947,” said Mr. Shedd. His sister, Diane, was born in June 1949.

The Shedds, as young parents, wanted to strike out on their own. One afternoon, they drove out Route 20 to Guilderland where new houses were being built. Mr. Shedd pulled into one and asked if they needed another carpenter; the answer was yes.

That same day, inquiring at the general store at Route 20 and Willow Street, where a firehouse now stands, the Shedds inquired about an apartment for rent and were told of one on nearby Hamilton Street. After settling into Guilderland, they found a hayfield on Koonz Road in Voorheesville where the view of the Helderbergs reminded them of the mountains in their home state of Vermont.

The Shedd family moved into a cellar hole — “a shack” is how their son described it — while, from 1953 to 1957, they built a house with their own hands. “Mom was a full-time homemaker. … She was a professional; she had a certificate,” said her son. “Mom was hauling around 30-pound concrete blocks,” he said, as part of the home-construction project.

“She was mortified that Diane and I lived in a shack. We were delighted to play with dirt and scrap lumber — and we had the woods,” said Jerome Shedd.

Whenever her children suffered the usual minor casualties of childhood, like cuts or rashes, Jerome Shedd said, “She could always put on her Nurse West hat. … She was protective of us.” Once, he recalled, when there was a delay in electric service to Koonz Road, “she pulled a tears fit and suddenly there was electricity.”

Mrs. Shedd decorated the family’s home with care, for example, painting on the shower door a picture of a mother robin in a sunbonnet, holding her chicks in a basket.

Her daughter became an artist and her son became a musician and music teacher.

“Because of her connection with the Keisers, there was classical music in the house. I was listening to the Nutcracker and Beethoven on our phonograph,” said Mr. Shedd. “Pop had his guitar and cowboy songs. She fostered love of good music in me.”

Mrs. Shedd always listened to Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts, transmitted live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

In 2007, a symphony composed by Jerome Shedd was performed at Lincoln Center. “Mom and Pop got to see it and read the Keisers’ names carved in marble,” Mr. Shedd said.

When Jerome Shedd was in the fourth grade, he brought home from school plans for a bluebird house, which his father built. Both of his parents became bird watchers and Mrs. Shedd became fast friends with another local ornithologist, Beverly Waite, who lived in a farmhouse outside of Altamont at the foot of the Helderbergs.

Jerome Shedd learned patience as a young driver when he’d go birding with his mother. He would stop the car when she spotted, say, ducks in the distance.

When the Heldeberg Workshop started, Mrs. Shedd was a volunteer. She also served as a volunteer observer for the National Weather Observatory in Albany, filing daily reports on temperature, rainfall and barometric pressure.

She loved reading a wide variety of books, and was not put off by massive texts like “A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.”

Although Mrs. Shedd considered herself a Christian, she was not a weekly church-goer as her husband had been.

There is a tree now planted in her memory in front of the church in Salisbury, Vermont, which she had attended in her youth. “Six months ago, she said, ‘When I die, plant a tree in my memory,’” her son recalled. He replied, “Why not do it now?”

He sent her a video of the maple tree being planted and an autumn-bright leaf from her tree.

****

 Mary Louise West Shedd is survived by her son, Jerome Shedd, and his wife, Lindi Bortney, of Ripton, Vermont; her daughter, Diane Wozniak, and her husband, Frank, of Altamont; and her brother, Roger West, and his wife, Ruth, of Clarendon, Vermont.

She is also survived by her grandchildren, Adair Shedd of Port Chester, New York, Adrienne Farragher and her husband, Adam, of Rotterdam, Adam Wozniak and his wife, Stacie, of Saratoga Springs; four great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Her husband, Robert C. Shedd, and her brother Paul West of Wallingford, Vermont, died before her.

At her request, there will be no service. Memorial donations may be made to The Nature Conservancy.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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