Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.
Name: Roberta “Birdie” Shelton
Died: March 20, 2020
Her friends called her “Birdie.” And there were a lot of them — for good reason.
Roberta Shelton, 69, was a fun-loving woman known for her big heart.
Friends say the Indianapolis woman would have been the first to step up to assist a family devastated by COVID-19. She was always staging charity events and benefits. They often included concerts drawing on her ties to the local music scene. One friend called her “the fundraiser queen.”
But Birdie won’t be helping in the fight against coronavirus. Fate intervened at Community Hospital East, where Shelton died in March 2020.
Shelton’s diagnosis was confirmed by her companion and employer Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
An Enterprise spokeswoman said the family informed the company of her diagnosis on March 14 and “out of an abundance of caution” employees in the same driver pool were instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The company also took additional steps to sanitize all offices and vehicles.
Shelton’s friends hope her death — like her life — resonates with Hoosiers.
They want people to know what an amazing person she was. They want people to understand victims aren’t anonymous statistics or numbers. They want people to heed the warnings about COVID-19 and practice social distancing. And they want everyone to realize the virus can strike anyone, anywhere — just as it did their cherished friend.
Shelton, who graduated from Northwest High School in 1970, had worked at IndyGo and Enterprise and was active with the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 1883 in Beech Grove for 25 years. She also volunteered to help women leaving prison, advocated for abused and stray dogs, and was a tireless supporter of local bands and musicians, including her companion Tony Sizemore.
Kim Beward said Shelton did not have any close relatives. But she had a large extended “family.”
“All she had in this world were her friends and musicians and Tony,” she said. “There are some nieces and nephews. But I heard from a bunch of people on Facebook that were like, ‘she practically raised me’ and ‘she was like a second mom to me.’ I’ve heard a lot of that.”
Beward, 55, met Shelton about 11 years ago when Shelton was volunteering with a nonprofit that helped women reintegrate into society after being released from prison. They quickly became fast friends. Beward even hired Birdie to help with her commercial cleaning business.
One memory Beward said typified Shelton’s caring spirit is of a night they spent together on the roof of Charlie Brown’s restaurant in Speedway. The stunt was a fundraiser to fight homelessness among former inmates.
“We wanted to make sure that women had clothes and help them find jobs, get the services and benefits that they needed, that kind of thing,” said Beward, who stayed in contact with Shelton after moving to Maryland about four years ago.
It was just one of many fundraisers Shelton organized. Another was a 2017 concert and motorcycle ride to help the families of Abby Williams and Libby German, the young girls who went missing in Delphi and were later found dead. Finding their killer was a cause Shelton continued to support on her Facebook page.
Just a month before her death, Shelton organized a celebration of life for a local musician. And when it was over, as was typical, Shelton took to Facebook to thank everyone else who helped with the event.
“We shed a few tears today and a whole lot of laughs. We had so much food we didn’t have room to sit it all out,” she wrote in the Feb. 9, 2020, post. “Danny we all miss you terribly & love you so much but we know you are playing in that Band in Heaven with Dean Kennedy & the rest of your friends pain free & healthy.”
“To know Birdie was to love her. She is definitely a legend in my eyes and throughout the city of Indianapolis,” said Penney Bray, who has started a GoFundMe page to help pay for Shelton’s funeral and other expenses.
— Contributed by the Indianapolis Star