Edna Colette Shalala

October 13, 1911 - December 2, 2014
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SHALALA EDNA C. SHALALA passed away Tuesday, December 2, at age 103. During more than a century of living, Edna Shalala witnessed a multitude of milestones achieved by women-from the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote, to Sally Ride's historic flight aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983, making her the first American woman in space. Diminutive in size but a giant in her accomplishments, Shalala also made history of her own, becoming the first female attorney of Syrian-Lebanese descent to practice law in Cleveland. Edna C. Shalala was born Edna Smith on October 13, 1911. She married James Abraham Shalala in 1939, and two years later, the couple had twin daughters: Donna and Diane. James was a prominent leader for Cleveland's Lebanese-Americans, urging them to become politically active and send their children to college. The couple encouraged their daughters to maintain ties with Lebanese relatives who lived in the neighborhood. Edna Shalala was an Ohio State Buckeye, Class of 1933. She was one of the first Arab-American graduates of the university. She majored in physical education and held down four jobs to make it through school: tennis instructor, restaurant worker, cloakroom attendant, and nanny. She was a teacher for many years.

When she was 38, she went to law school while teaching and raising her daughters. When Shalala passed the bar exam in 1952, she retired from teaching and, with a fellow female law student, started her own law firm. The two ran a successful probate practice for many years, one that Shalala continued on her own after her partner died in 1968. She was the first female attorney of Syrian-Lebanese descent to practice law in Cleveland, filing petitions, writing briefs, and representing clients in court for 50 years. She retired in 2002. When Donna Shalala became president of the University of Miami, Mother Shalala, as she was affectionately known by the UM community, spent much of her time in Coral Gables, living with her daughter at the presidential residence, attending UM functions, playing golf, and taking part in many of the institution's activities, including those at the Herbert Wellness Center and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She was a familiar figure at many University events, attending talks and lectures by prominent visitors such as the Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton, her daughter's former boss.

Edna Shalala was a nationally ranked tennis player in the 1930s and '40s, winning women's state tennis titles in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In 1938, she played on Forest Hills' center court against the top-ranked female tennis player in the nation, Alice Marble. She remained active in the sport even well into her 80s, playing three or four days a week and competing in several tournaments. In 1980, Shalala was inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame. She competed on the senior circuit until suffering a stroke in 1996. Edna Shalala's legacy will impact many, especially female student-athletes at the University of Miami. The Edna C. Shalala Fund for Women's Athletics, created to honor her on the occasion of her 100th birthday, helps fund women's athletics and supports the continued success of women's athletic teams. The inaugural Edna C. Shalala 5K Run/Walk, to be held on UM's Coral Gables campus December 13, will benefit that fund.

She is survived by her sister, Louise McGann (Cleveland, Ohio); daughters Donna E. Shalala and Diane (Robert) Fritel (Wolford, North Dakota); grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Anastasia (Corey) Martin, Claire, Cecelia, and Lydia (Buffalo, Minnesota); Katrina (Thomas) Bueckers, Ariana, Jett, Caiden, and Annika (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Sara (Douglas) Johnson, RJ and Julia (McLean, Virginia); and James (Kelly) Fritel, Andrew, Matthew, and Grace (Spring Green, Wisconsin); and many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased in death by her husband, James Shalala in 1959, her parents, brothers Fred and George, and sisters Nellie Melito, Florence O'Boyle, Mary Batal, and Pauline Long. The family has suggested that memorial donations be made to: The Lebanese-Syrian-American Junior League Scholarship Fund, Amber (Joseph) Wiesner, Second Vice President, Scholarship Chairwoman, 6348 Ledgewood Drive Independence, OH 44131. VISITATION FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12th from 6-8PM. HUMENIK FUNERAL CHAPEL, 14200 Snow Road, Brook Park, OH 44142, (216) 265-8700. Funeral Mass at St. Christopher's Catholic Church, 20141 Detroit Road, Rocky River, Ohio 44116 at 11am Saturday, December 13th.

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Service Schedule

Visitation Information

Date: Friday, December 12, 2014

Time: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Humenik Funeral Chapel


14200 Snow Road
Brook Park, OH 44142

Service Information

Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014

Time: 12:00 am

Humenik Funeral Chapel


14200 Snow Road
Brook Park, OH 44142


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Timeline for Edna Colette Shalala

Born: October 13, 1911
Died: December 2, 2014

Condolences for Edna Colette Shalala

Humenik Funeral Chapel

Our sincere condolences.

The staff of Humenik Funeral Chapel.


Mary Beth Pettek posted on 12/13/14

I was privileged to spend many happy hours in the pool at River Oaks in the early 90s getting to know Edna, Nel, Flo and Lou! Edna was always such an inspiration to me as she was always one of the hardest workers in the pool.
At the time, I worked at Social Security and we were inviting successful, inspirational women to speak to us of women's issues. Edna graciously accepted my invitation and gave a wonderful presentation; we were probably the only district office to have the "Boss's" mother speak and my co-workers were impressed that I had a connection to the HHS Secretary! Donna-I remember Edna saying she was glad she had gotten your teeth straightened whenever she saw you on TV!
Her funeral this morning was beautiful and seemed to capture her spirit. May she rest in peace.


Tony Monastra (January 1959 WEST TECHNICAL) posted on 12/12/14

Dianne and Donna, May your mother's memory be Enternal.


Nancy M Shalala posted on 12/10/14

SOPHISTICATION WILLOW BASKET SPRAY was sent by Jennifer Shalala Douglass, Matthew Shalala .

Edna will always remain an inspiration to us all for a life lived to the fullest. With deepest sympathy from Jennifer Shalala Douglass, Matthew Shalala, and Nancy Shalala & their families


Lewis M. Goodman posted on 12/8/14

My condolences to the Family. Played tennis with Edna and Donna in the 60's.