Claude Shirts

March 15, 1962 – August 23, 2022

Photo of Claude Shirts

Claude Darrow Shirts passed away on August 23, 2022, at the home he shared in San Francisco with his partner Robert. Death was sudden and of natural causes. He was 60. He will be remembered for his creativity and hard work, his caring heart and infectious laugh.

He was born March 15, 1962, to Gordon and Audrey Shirts, and grew up on the edge of the forest in South Lake Tahoe, California, with his two older siblings, Len and Paula. Claude was creative and talented, and especially drawn to music, theater, and dance. He played the clarinet, oboe, and piano, appeared in plays, and performed with his traveling puppet theater at many birthday parties.

After graduating from high school, Claude discovered sign language, and became a certified sign language interpreter. He moved to New York City and worked in a variety of settings. His professional highlights were the many plays he sign-interpreted, including the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park and the original production of RENT at New York Theatre Workshop. He also worked with Hands On, a non-profit that provides access to arts and cultural programs for the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. In New York Claude met his first partner Jim Tola and Jim’s daughters Darla and Kari. When Jim passed away in 1993 Claude formed the TOLA Program, which offers Deaf youth and parents free or discounted tickets to interpreted family entertainment.

Claude eventually moved back to California and continued working as a sign language interpreter and as a coordinator at Eaton Interpreting Services. In recent years he felt a particular satisfaction working with elementary-aged Deaf and hard of hearing children in the San Francisco school system.

Claude’s world opened up to happiness and contentment when he met his partner of 15 years, Robert Alaniz. Of all that they shared together, their greatest joy was their relationship with Robert’s daughters and grandchildren.

Claude is survived by his mother, Audrey Shirts, his partner, Robert Alaniz, brother Len Shirts and sister-in-law Franziska Braegger, sister Paula Foley and brother-in-law John Foley, stepdaughters Genevieve Pineida, Jennifer Aguirre, and Samantha Alaniz, and grandchildren Ezalea, Jazzlyn, Mia, Nova, Manuel and Noah. He was preceded in death by his father, Gordon Shirts, and step granddaughter Audrina. He was laid to rest near Audrina on September 1, 2022, at the Hanford Cemetery in Hanford, California.


Note from Drago: While AIDS was not the direct cause of Claude’s death, he was a long-time HIV+ survivor and HIV likely weakened his immune system contributing to his early death. I believe he would have wanted to be listed here so have included him. He is greatly missed.

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