Story and photos by MaryJane Mudd, Red Cross contributor

There is a lot to see in Shirley Bryson’s sharp blue eyes. Humor. Gratitude. A glint of mischief and most of all, a steely resolve. Born and raised in Texas and once an employee for NASA long before women were part of the payroll, Shirley knows a thing or two about strength in the face of personal challenges. It’s this strength she has tapped into again and again, not only during Imelda, but Harvey as well. 

“Last Wednesday night, I thought ‘here we go again,’” she said, pushing back her soft gray hair as Red Cross volunteer Andy Barker sat by her side. “I’ve lived in this county for decades and I’ve seen roughly 15 hurricanes come and go. With Harvey, I was stranded on the front porch with my two dogs until rescue crews came. That time, I was able to live with my sister-in-law, but this time, she flooded, too.” 

Shirley had repaired the damage to her Chambers County home from Hurricane Harvey not long before meteorologists started tracking Tropical Storm Imelda. She thought she had escaped the worst of it until water started seeping into her home during the early hours of Thursday, September 19. Emergency responders found her again on the front stoop (her elderly dogs passed away last year) and air-boated her to a nearby school. Shortly thereafter, a bus brought her to the Red Cross shelter, where she met Andy and other compassionate volunteers. 

“It’s my honor to serve others in times of disaster,” said Andy, a longtime Red Cross disaster volunteer who flew in from Washington state to help run the Chambers County shelter where Shirley was housed. “People like Shirley are what our mission is all about. If we can provide some comfort during a terrible time, we want to do it.” 

Twice widowed and a career woman even in her golden years, Shirley manages to laugh at what would make others cry. “I forgot to tell you my roof blew off during Hurricane Rita,” she grins. “But I learned a long time ago that life is an adventure. Even with Imelda, as horrible as it is, I have so much to be grateful for – my health, my life, and people like Andy who have made this situation better with warm beds, food, and kindness.” 

When someone nearby called her a “steel magnolia,” she nodded her head. “I like that! I’m a steel magnolia. But we all need help no matter how strong we are. The Red Cross has been that help to me during Imelda, and I will never, ever forget it.”