W4TBU - November 8, 2004

Shirley Wilkerson JR

My friend and Elmer, Shirley Wilkerson, Jr., W4TBU, died on November 8, 2004. He was 84 years old. He was a one-time member of QCWA, having been licensed in 1950. He is survived by a sister. He was featured in the winter 2003 edition of the QCWA Journal. Ham radio has lost one of its best.

There will be an obituary in his hometown newspaper www.thegleaner.com. Probably tomorrow. Henderson, KY.

Tom Webb W4YOK


W4TBU, Shirley Wilkerson, Jr., died November 8, 2004-terribly crushing news for his ham friends and his family. Yet, his spirit will fly over the short waves, for us, forever.

With the most incongruous of names, Shirley was perhaps the best ham ever. He was a gentle and effective Elmer to many, a solid keeper of schedules for decades, an adroit Dxer with a fine CW fist, a Rag Chewer with a wealth of interesting things to say, a lover of Collins radios, an electronics whiz, and a firm and abiding friend. He introduced himself over the air as "Shirley, like Shirley Temple," sometimes with a signature slight chuckle in his voice, but never with an explanation nor apology. The teenage guys he taught ham radio had to explain to their girl friends that "going to see Shirley" meant a visit to a man, a man who could pull that heavy beam to the top of the tower and heave a 75A-4 onto a desk.

Shirley was born 84 years ago into the smallest of worlds-small, isolated country town where, later, travel to the Dayton Hamfest was a real excursion. Ham radio came into his life in 1950 via a magnificent Hallicrafter receiver, and his world ballooned to encompass the whole globe.

He heard, and maybe contacted, ham kings, senators, and other notables, and thousands of regular guys and gals over the years in ever corner of the world. His radio was always on, and if his friends were driving back to the old home town, they could always count on getting W4TBU to respond at the approaching edge of mobile 2-meter FM range. His welcome let you know you were "home again."

His friends never saw him angry, and his harshest admonition simply said "that shouldn't be happening." He had a strong love and forgiveness for humanity and showed it in a myriad of kindnesses and favors. He had an eye disorder that made his focal length about three inches-friends never knew if the lack of glasses was a personal choice or just no help-so when he worked to fix a friend's broken radio, he seemed really to be "smelling out" the trouble. And, soon he would exclaim, "There's the problem" and dig into his junk box for a replacement part. Offer of payment for the help was always dismissed in the way modest and truly generous country people do. His help extended to scores of eager young people that he taught CW and radio theory.

He made many a new ham with his gentle urging and tireless repetition of hand-sent code groups and drawn schematics that explained "how it all worked."

For decades, Shirley kept weekly 20-meter and 40-meter schedules with those now-older young people he taught and other friends that gathered to his cheerful radio greetings and steady friendship. Because he listened to the short wave bands so much, he was often the man who tipped us off to a new rare DX station (before packet) or could say, "I heard you on 15 the other day, but you were busy working DX and I did not call." His station started modestly, but on one glorious day, in the days when Collins was king, he invested a small inheritance in a magnificent Collins S-Line. Hams came from all over just to look at it. His buddies chipped in to get him a KW linear. All was lovingly cared for, tweeked, and operated with daily delight. He may have had the oldest living TA-33 antenna, hiding at 40 feet in his back yard. It served, and he served it, well with nightly chats on 29.1 with ground wave friends, and it and his considerable skill allowed him to sneak under the big guns rapidly to work an elusive DX station.

Shirley was also the spark plug for the home town Field Days. He covered the logistics, did lots of the setting-up (and the taking down), and operated with a now-curious gentlemanly grace, thanking each contact and QSYing if anyone asked. That's where his students learned contesting, in the open cow pastures of Henderson County. That is where they also learned the satisfaction of doing a hard job well.

How do we, Shirley's friends and students, feel at his passing? Intense sadness, of course, but we know he passed in peace and acceptance. He was rewarded for a magnificently full life that was honorably and joyously lived. He touched us deeply, and we carry him in our lives every time we key-down and energize the air waves with our own calls that we can only hope would do him proud.

73 to W4TBU, de K4VUD, Charles Harpole