Shirley Franklin Tyree, 90, a retired science teacher in the Philadelphia public schools and a leader of African American social organizations, died Wednesday, Nov. 29, of congestive heart failure at her West Philadelphia home.

Shirley Franklin Tyree
Courtesy of the family
Shirley Franklin Tyree

The youngest of four children of Fannie Cobb Franklin and James B. Franklin Sr., Mrs. Tyree graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls in January 1944.

Very early, Mrs. Tyree learned from her mother the value of a good education as the key to success. As her own children came along, each came to understand he or she had to do well in school, "It was like, 'You're on deck now, it's your turn.' Getting a high school diploma and a college degree were the minimum," said son Karl Jr., known as "Gil."

In 1948, Mrs. Tyree earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, and in 1966 a master of science in education degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She chose science as a major because she saw it as an important subject and a stepping stone to advancement for herself and, later, her pupils.

After graduating from college, Mrs. Tyree was employed as a chemist by the U.S. Naval Quartermaster in South Philadelphia.  She worked there briefly before beginning her career as a science teacher with the School District of Philadelphia.

Her initial assignment was at Thomas E. FitzSimons Junior High School. Then she transferred to the Anna B. Howard Shaw Junior High School, where she distinguished herself as a master teacher. She started the Shaw student council and encouraged student leaders, her son said.

Mrs. Tyree is fondly remembered for her school trips to Washington and New York, her son said. "They were more than sight-seeing tours," he said. "We had to know what we saw, whom we met, what the history was. I love American history, and a lot of it was because of my mom exposing me to those trips."

"I went to Lea Junior High School. She taught at Shaw. She took us out of school – me and a couple others," her son said. "We would go with them from Shaw. She wanted us to absorb some of the cultural experience."

By the time she retired in 1988 as chairman of Shaw's science department, she had logged three decades with the School District.

Mrs. Tyree was married in June 1952 to Karl G. Tyree Sr., whom she knew from elementary school. The couple reared three children in Darby Borough and West Philadelphia. Her husband died of pancreatic cancer in 1983. "She was there for him," her son said.

For more than 70 years before her death, Mrs. Tyree was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and served as the president of the Omega Omega chapter from 1985 to 1988.

During her tenure, the chapter donated a piano to a secondary school in South Africa, awarded $15,000 in scholarships to high school students in Philadelphia and its suburbs, adopted Harrity Elementary Mastery Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, and hosted receptions for students from Soweto and Umtata, South Africa.

In January 1986, Mrs. Tyree presided over a reception at the Franklin Institute to honor Ruth Wright Hayre for her appointment to the Philadelphia Board of Education. At that time, Mrs. Tyree was head of the local Omega Omega chapter. The event was covered on the Inquirer's society page.

Mrs. Tyree also was a past president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Top Ladies of Distinction Inc., which she joined in 1990. The organization of African American women does charitable work and mentors inner-city youth.

For 15 years starting in the early 1990s, she served as president of the board of directors of Stephen Smith Towers Apartments, a rental community for independent seniors on Belmont Avenue.  She increased charitable contributions, obtained federal funding, and garnered local and national attention. She also oversaw major renovations to improve the facility for residents.

"My mom worked around the clock," her son said. "It was always to bring people together. She wanted to see people's lives improved in whatever way she could help. She always stayed behind the scenes."

Her daughter, Annette Tyree Debisette, said, "She taught us the spirit of giving. 'Those to whom much has been given, much is required,'" she liked to say, according to Debisette. The Bible passage is from Luke 12:48.

An avid Eagles fan, she held season tickets going back to when the team played at Franklin Field. "She had to have her Eagles green on every Sunday," her son said.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Tyree was preceded in death by a grandson. Besides her son and daughter, she is survived by daughter Priscilla Tyree Williams; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, 5620 Wyalusing Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19131. Interment is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the church at the address above, in care of Ed Hale.