Cover photo for Shelley M. Lagally's Obituary
Shelley M. Lagally Profile Photo

Shelley M. Lagally

July 18, 1947 — March 23, 2024


Shelley M. Lagally, a charming, beautiful, and extraordinarily intelligent woman and soul mate, passed away unexpectedly at home in the night of March 23, 2024. Beloved by all who had the good fortune to know her, interact with her, or work with her, she leaves a void that will be impossible to fill.

Shelley was born on July 18, 1947 in El Paso TX, the youngest child of military parents, J. Tod and Phyllis H. Meserow. New assignments every few years led to many different experiences, but no sense of home. She attended eleven different schools, in the Philippines, Virginia, Colorado, and Hawai’i. Her parents finally settled in Madison for the last assignment.   While enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Shelley met her future husband, Max, at the Hoofer Sailing Club, as she was learning to sail.  On their second date, Max said that he would eventually marry her. Thereupon, Shelley refused to see him for many months, claiming she needed to study. Finally, with the assistance of her mother, he managed to convince her. Married in 1969, they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in February.

During a year in Berlin, Germany, while her husband was on a postdoctoral appointment, Shelley learned German and to cook exceptionally well.  Once back in the United States, she returned to the University of Wisconsin to complete BA and MA degrees in English Literature.  During her graduate career she taught English to international students, resulting in many interesting experiences for her and accolades from her students.  She was simply excellent with people: kind, understanding, and loving. She had nearly completed a Ph.D. when the birth of the first of three sons interrupted her studies. She instead accepted employment teaching modern English linguistics and History of the English language at UW Extension, followed by a position in the College of Engineering teaching technical editing and writing, and English as a second language to graduate students.  During this time she also edited the text book Thyristor Networks, by Robert Kustom, and a number of technical manuscripts.

Unfortunately, postpartum depression also brought to the fore Shelley’s latent disease of alcoholism. After inpatient treatment, she cherished her sobriety and continued her active life style. While raising three boys and managing the household, she was for five years the business manager of Jazzworks Dance Company, increasing the budget 20-fold and building the Jazzworks audience from 50 to close to 1000.   She believed that further education would offer new opportunities and so she earned, with honors, an MA in Public Policy and Administration with a concentration in bioethics from The LaFollette Institute at UW and immediately accepted a position as a staff member in the office of the Health Sciences Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University.  Shelley’s charm often won the day in vital ethics deliberations. In a short time she became the director. Among many other successes, transitioning the department to the digital age and passing a federal audit stood out.                

Her people skills extended to children.  As a soccer coach for 12 years, she de-emphasized winning, rather focusing on everyone playing and doing their best. As a result, of course, her teams won.  She was so respected that she was named Madison Youth Soccer Association Coach of the Year in 1995. But foremost, she adored her own children, taught them love and kindness, and was available for their myriad activities, from playing flute in the Hill Farms Fourth of July parade band to serving as social chair for the West High School jazz band, to acting as chauffeur and cheerleader for myriad music, soccer, gymnastics, and Tae Kwon Do events.

Shelley had many interests and avocations.  Because of their love for sailing, she and Max bought an M-20 and raced it for many years on Lake Mendota.  Their on-board conversations, loud enough to be heard by other sailors half-way across the lake, were legend.  She loved to travel.  Long winter stays for the last 15 years in Hawai’i always improved her health and gave her the opportunity to “talk story” with her Hawaiian friends. A semester in Australia and summers in Germany provided opportunities for her to expose the kids to new experiences, ranging from camping with kangaroos to touring all the major cathedrals of Europe. She explored China and Japan on a number of visits to each, as well as Caribbean islands, the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos Islands, and summers in Colorado. She collected dolls, particularly ones representative of the local cultures she encountered. She was a voracious reader, generally reading a new book every two days. She wrote poetry and loved to sketch animals and flowers. For many years she volunteered at the UW Arboretum. In 2015 she received a Backyard Heroes award from Community Shares of Wisconsin for her environmental conservation efforts. But probably most dear to her was her horse, Cody.  As an expert horsewoman, with a box full of ribbons from horse shows, she trained Cody to be a gentle horse even kids could ride.

Shelley is survived by her loving husband, her three children, Eric (Maia Manning), Douglas (Kristin), and Karsten, grandchildren KJ and Lanah Strunk, siblings Hale (Sue) and Judy Meserow, brother-in-law Hermann Lagally (Karen), her three dogs, her horse Cody, and several nieces and nephews.

If you wish to honor Shelley, the family suggests a donation to the UW Arboretum:, Wisconsin Conservation Voters:, Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance:, or a horse rescue organization of your choice. A celebration of life is planned at a future date.  


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