The Cabrini community mourns the loss of Trustee and longtime friend Shirley Walker Dixon (’84, MEd’89, EdD’18), who died Friday, Nov. 29, while with her family in Philadelphia.
“Shirley was an iconic member of the Cabrini community, serving as a loyal Trustee, proud three-time graduate, beloved faculty member, and respected leader in college-wide diversity efforts,” said Cabrini President Donald B. Taylor, PhD. “Her impact on the field of education and on the Cabrini family has been immeasurable. She will be deeply missed.”
A devoted advocate of ensuring an equitable education for all students, Dixon was a woman of many firsts. In 2018, she earned the distinction of being the first person to receive a doctoral degree from Cabrini University—a Doctorate in Educational Leadership—as well as the only graduate to have received a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree from Cabrini.
That same year, the Center for Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement—which integrates the mission of the University to further work alongside historically underserved communities and schools—held the inaugural Shirley Dixon Celebration of Urban Education Symposium.
Dixon’s unwavering commitment to Cabrini was recognized in 2016 when she received the University’s inaugural Compass Award, which honors individuals whose continuous service promotes and defends dignity for all. She also marked a historic moment for Cabrini in 1990, when she became the first African American appointed to the Cabrini Board of Trustees.
Her teaching career at Cabrini began in 1992 when she accepted a position as an adjunct professor in the Education Department. Four years later, Dixon transitioned to a full-time position as Cabrini’s Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives while continuing to teach. She served as Assistant Professor of Education from 2007 to 2014, when she retired.
“Shirley opened her heart to all and helped everyone,” said Cathy Yungmann, Professor Emerita, Communication. “The world is more empty without Shirley’s grace, wisdom, and humor.”
The Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP recognized Dixon as one of 104 influential black women in Philadelphia in 2013 for her service to the community. Prior to her career at Cabrini, she served as principal at Girard College Elementary School—another notable accomplishment, as she was the first African American to serve as principal at the school, after teaching fifth grade there. She had worked with the Philadelphia Housing Authority for nearly 20 years before moving into the education field.
Dixon’s dedication to education extended beyond the local area and even the United States. She taught in rural Ghana in the early 2000s. After witnessing students drinking tainted water, she petitioned the United Nations (UN) to make clean drinking water a global human right, helping to move it up on the organizations’ list of top priorities. In 2008, China opened their criminal justice system to outsiders for the first time, and Dixon was there, discussing the legal system with Chinese judges and attorneys. In 2009, she served as principal for a girls’ school in South Africa, humbly saying, “What I learned from those girls changed my life.” Her achievements have been recognized by three schools on the continent of Africa.
“A woman of grace, charm, candor, tenacity, compassion, and joie de vivre—that was our Shirley,” said Nancy Gorevin Costello (’71), Communications Director of the Guadalupe Province, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and friend of Dixon for many years. “She embraced every day with gusto. A true educator at heart, she called forth excellence, justice, and inclusion in her students and in all who were blessed to know her. She made friends wherever she went. And, how she loved Cabrini University! I am confident that Shirley and Mother Cabrini are comparing notes on the Education of the Heart.”
Dixon established an endowed scholarship at Cabrini in the name of her late cousin to help students of color who wish to continue their studies, with preference given to those in education. In Dixon’s memory, donations may be made to the Shirley A. Dixon and Dorthula A. Trent Scholarship, c/o Institutional Advancement, Cabrini University, 610 King of Prussia Rd., Radnor, PA 19087 or via cabrini.edu/giving.
A viewing starting at 9am Friday, Dec. 6, at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St., will be followed by 11am funeral services. Burial is in Mount Lawn Cemetery, Sharon Hill.