Community mourns with passing of Shirley Roccaforte
By Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record
The woman affectionately known as the “First Lady of Bridge City” has died.
Shirley Roccaforte, wife of Mayor Kirk Roccaforte and a business owner in Bridge City, passed away Monday morning at her home. She was 67.
Shirley, although the wife of an elected official, was equally well known in her own right for her strong sense of fairness, her “straightforward” opinion, love of animals, sense of humor and colorful vocabulary.
One of Shirley’s closest friends is Bonnie Burgess, the former Mayor of Bridge City and friend of nearly 40 years.
“I didn’t see her everyday or talk to her everyday, but we could pick up the phone anytime and it was just like it always was with us,” Burgess said. “That’s true friendship. It’s still kind of hard to believe that she’s gone. She was just such a remarkable person.”
Burgess accepted Shirley for who she was, as did most people, which was one of the qualities that made her so unique.
“I had a party one time, a long time ago, with a lot of my female friends,” Burgess explained as she started laughing. “I had to warn them in advance about her. I said, ‘I’m not apologizing for her. Just don’t be surprised and don’t take offense to how she talks. It’s just how she is.’ And everyone accepted that once they got to know her.
“She had choice pet names for everybody too,” Burgess said with a chuckle. “She didn’t try to put on airs for anyone, and I think people liked that. There won’t be anyone to replace her.”
Brandy McPayne Slaughter met Shirley through the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce and convinced Shirley to join, while she was president of the chamber and remained friends with the family since then.
“Shirley had a great big heart, and she was an awesome person,” Slaughter said with a laugh. “She liked to call everyone names, but, with Shirley, if she didn’t call you names, then she didn’t know you or didn’t like you.”
Slaughter said Shirley had a gentle side that many people may not have experienced, but she had witnessed it on more than one occassion.
“Just this past Thanksgiving, Shirley had contacted me and asked if I knew anyone who needed some help at Thanksgiving,” Slaughter explained. “She ended up contacting some churches and was able to help out some people. She was that kind of person and just wanted to make sure people could have a happy Thanksgiving.
“She acted hard-nosed and tough, but she really wasn’t like that,” Slaughter continued. “You didn’t want to cross her, but if she was your friend, then she was your friend. I’m really going to miss her.”
Judge Joy Dubose Simonton, Orange County Justice of the Peace in Precinct 3, was called to the Roccaforte’s home in Bridge City shortly after 10 a.m., Monday, after she was found unresponsive. Simonton ordered an inquest.
Shirley’s passing will leave a large void in the lives of her family and friends. Although Shirley may be gone, she is definitely one who will not so easily be forgotten.
“Everybody knew her, and she knew how to make an impression,” said son Aaron Roccaforte with a laugh. “Her charming personality really stood out. So many people knew her and liked her. It’s been amazing at the outpouring we have received. We’ve had phone calls and texts and people stopping by. It’s amazing to know how many people liked her and cared about her. I still can’t believe she’s gone.”
Shirley was born Dec. 15, 1947 to parents Paul and Betty Jo Potter in Phoenix, Az., where she attended and graduated high school. She soon moved to Southeast Texas with her first husband, Harry Land.
Shirley later married Kirk Roccaforte, her husband of 37 years, the current Mayor of Bridge City. Together they owned the family business, Bridge City Radiator, where Shirley regularly provided her opinions and humor on a variety of subjects.
Preceded in death by her father, Paul Potter Sr., and a daughter, Robin Lynn Hand, Shirley leaves behind her husband, Kirk; son, Aaron Roccaforte and his wife, Chrisleigh; daughter, Cristal Land DuBois, and her husband, Dwayne; her mother, Betty Jo Potter; brother, Paul Monroe Potter Jr.; and three grandchildren, Camden and Caleb DuBois and Trent Roccaforte, along with many other relatives.
Visitation services will be held from noon – 2 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18, at Winfree Baptist Church, 19525 State Highway 62 in Orange. Memorial services will be held starting at 2 p.m. at the church with graveside service to follow at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens on State Highway 87 outside of Bridge City.
The family has requested, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to PAWS Pet Rescue, which can be mailed or delivered to Dr. Albert Pugh, 2832 Texas Ave. in Bridge City, due to Shirley’s kindness to animals.