Column: Former Topeka first lady more than a cook *
By Mike Hall
December 22, 2009 – 5:49pm
This may be a stretch, but the recent death of Shirley McCormick reminded me of one of the most honest Christmas greetings I have ever heard.
Many people remember Shirley as the wife of Bill McCormick, who was mayor of Topeka from 1971 to 1983. People who knew her a little better remember her as a great cook, arranging meals for the ERC Designer Showhouse and for her church.
People who knew her a little better yet remember her as a fun person to be around and the perfect mate for Bill.
I once wrote a personality profile of Bill McCormick while he was mayor. It included a memorable interview with Bill and Shirley, talking about their lives together.
They first met when Bill was a trumpeter and she was in a drill team in the old Br’er Fox kiddies show at the Jayhawk Theater. He was 14. She was 11. In the interview, she claimed to be offended that he referred to her as a “chorus girl,” but her laugh betrayed her delight in the story.
The romance didn’t begin, though, until they met at a Washburn University fraternity party.
“We dated for a while and then I broke a date and we didn’t date for a year,” she told me. “Then we got back together and started dating again.”
At that point he broke in with, “It was gangbusters.”
Pretended offense again, betrayed again by the laugh.
“He didn’t used to talk like that,” Shirley said. “He was the most quiet boy I ever knew. He was really polite. He was the nicest boy I ever went with.”
To which Bill replied: “I was? Who did you go with?”
I remember times like that with Shirley. But, yes, I also remember the food. The McCormicks had a “wine and stew party” each fall and invited a variety of people from the community. There were lawyers, judges, business people, Menninger outpatients and even the reporters who regularly covered City Hall.
The stew was so good my wife got the recipe and we still make it occasionally. I say “we” make it in the sense that the little bird riding on the elephant’s back said, after crossing a bridge, “We sure made that bridge shake, didn’t we?”
And I can’t think of Shirley without bringing up memories of Bill.
One Christmas, a local television crew set up a camera in the mayor’s office and asked Bill to offer a Christmas greeting they could play on the air.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked.
“How about ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” the reporter suggested.
“Oh. I never say Merry Christmas,” McCormick said.
“OK. What do you say?”
“Same to you,” McCormick said.
Mike Hall can be reached at (785) 295-1209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*As it appeared in the Topeka Capitol-Journal