Ben Shirley: A good man gone

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — It all began some 48 years ago for a young man named Benjamin Franklin Shirley Sr. He had just arrived in St. Pete on Nov. 11, 1970, and immediately began looking for work. Eight days later, he was hired on doing maintenance in the Department of Sanitation at the City of St. Petersburg.

He worked his way up to the top at the sanitation department where he served as director for more than 10 years.

Last Thursday after leaving work, Shirley Sr. suffered a medical episode and was later pronounced dead at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

“It’s shocking, and we have lost a very good man,” said Marion Moody, commercial supervisor in the sanitation department.

Shirley Sr.’s first job at the city entailed repairing lids and wheels on containers. A few months later, he was promoted to the equipment section of the commercial division as an operator, where he had no qualms about working late hours into the night.

He stayed in that position until 1976 when he was promoted to the position of supervisor for commercial employees. In 2006, Shirley was promoted to director overseeing a department of nearly 200 employees and a $48 million budget.

Shirley Sr. was known to be meticulous, showing great attention to detail, and required his employees to do the same. Work was hard and long, but he and the rest of his team was dedicated to getting the job done. He often spoke of making sure residents received the highest level of service possible.

In his more than 40 years at the city, Shirley Sr. witnessed many changes from mayors to city administrators. He credited his success to hard work, personal experiences, and of course, the work ethic he learned from his dad. With his experience working in solid waste collection for so long, many considered him to be an expert in the field.

Shirley Sr. prepared himself for management by attending continuing education supervisor training and management courses. He also received many awards for outstanding services in the community.

Shirley Sr., affectionately known to family and friends as Uncle Ben, was born Sept. 9, 1950, in Troy, Ala., to loving parents Lamar Shirley and Emma Smith. He was the youngest of 10 siblings and learned at an early age the value of respecting elders and gathering profound knowledge through the wisdom of others.

Shirley Sr. grew up in Quincy, Fla., and graduated from Carter-Parramore High School.

At home and in the community, Shirley Sr. was described by many as an astute man who could discern a person’s attributes within the first 30 seconds of meeting them. He often used this skill to determine who would be allowed into his inner circle of friends and supporters, and to whom he would simply extend a warm hand or words of encouragement.

Shirley Sr. was a philanthropist and embedded the importance of giving back to the community to his children and grandchildren. He also loved music and sang in several community choirs.

He leaves behind to cherish his memory a wife, Carrie M. Shirley, six adult children, and a host of extended family and friends.

The wake for Benjamin Franklin Shirley Sr. was be held Thursday, Nov. 15 at Bethel AME Church, 912 Third Ave. N. Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. at Bethel Metropolitan Church, 3455 26th Ave. S.

To reach Dexter McCree, email

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