I met Shirley Eikhard about 15 years ago - maybe 20? I've always been bad with dates.
She sent me an email because at the time I was running Sarah Harmer's website and Shirley, being a fan of Sarah's and her site, asked if I could provide her with something similar. We decided to meet up at a coffee shop and discuss.
Admittedly, I was only partially familiar with her career at the time. I offered up the notion that she really need need me for that. The emergence of WordPress sites and the like allowed non-developers to make sites and update them at little to no cost. She bristled at the idea (more on why in a minute)
During our meeting, she was very friendly and unassuming. Never mentioned Grammys or Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame. Didn't name drop Cher or Bonnie Raitt or Celine Dion. None of it. Just presented herself as a simple songwriter making her way in the world.
Over the years, I'd get to know her pretty well. She was warm and friendly - like maybe your favourite Aunt might be. She was delightfully non-technical. She would send photos through the mail to be used on the site. She would mail me her CDs to rip into MP3s and send back. When she received emails about the domain expiry or whatever she'd reach out with her usual "Do I need to worry about this?"
Most of the time, I didn't even charge her for the work I did on the site - not because I am a nice person (I'm not, really) but because she was SUCH a nice person. When I found out that Don Cherry's Rock Sock Em whatever used one of my songs without permission or payment, she immediately put me in touch with her lawyer who, in turn, did not charge me anything because Shirley was such a nice person. (As an aside, we never did get any money for it.)
I also saw firsthand some of the 'trappings' of fame. There were stalkers. Obsessed fans. Old "friends" who would come out of the woodwork saying they were owed this or that. It actually got to the point where all contact from the site came directly to me as a buffer. I'd weed out the negatives and she'd never even see them. I'd pass along the praise or the request of autographs or whatever. Fame definitely made her very, very private.
Recently, she was STILL making music, writing songs and putting them out for the world. She delighted in telling me of the great work Eric Alper (yes, that one) was doing for her. She only ever had the nicest things to say about people. It's almost amazing that someone as nice as she was able to exist and thrive in such a cut throat business.
I've known she's been sick for a little while, but as you might imagine, was very private and didn't talk about it. I got word a few nights ago that things had taken a bad turn. Then, this morning, I was informed that she'd passed.
I plan to keep her site going indefinitely as a tribute. I think I may solicit some stories or whatever from others who knew her. Or, maybe I will just let her songs speak for themselves.