In Loving Memoriam
By David Shimer
Remembered as insightful, selfless and supportive, Deborah Shimer—a professional life coach and a decades-long Chappaqua resident—died of cancer on June 29, 2018. She was 54 years old.
Deborah was born in London to Geoffrey and Barbara Nelson on October 2, 1963. In 1979, she moved to New Jersey with her mother and sisters, Margaret and Hilary, eventually becoming a United States citizen.
After graduating from West Windsor High School in 1981, Deborah attended the Katherine Gibbs School in New York and went on to work for Tishman Brothers, a Manhattan-based real estate company, first as executive secretary and then as an assistant project manager.
Deborah moved to Chappaqua in 1989 with her first husband, Robert Fischman. Together, they raised three children: Josh, Zachary and Leandra.
“She always encouraged me and my siblings to do what felt right for us, without judgment, and we were so lucky for that,” Zachary said. “Above all, she taught us to keep an open mind and to do what made us happy.”
Deborah and Robert later divorced, and, in 2013, she married Sam Shimer, also a Chappaqua resident. The couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida last year.
“She was the kindest, most caring and most loving person I have ever known,” Sam said. “She never compromised—not in our relationship, or in any of her relationships. She always worked to make her life, and our life, better, and she truly wanted everyone she cared about to be happy and fulfilled.”
Friends say Deborah always prioritized the feelings, interests and desires of others above her own.
A few years ago, when Deborah found out that one of her friends, Rosie Battista, planned to spend her birthday alone, Deborah “dropped everything,” Rosie recalled, and drove two hours to meet her for dinner in New Jersey.
“She was the epitome of what a friend should be,” Rosie said. “She always wanted to be happy and to make sure people around her were doing the things that would make them happy. Even as her illness progressed, she kept asking how I was doing. It was just who she was.”
Throughout her life, Deborah found ways to direct her personal passions toward entrepreneurial endeavors.
First, Deborah turned her attention to nutrition. She attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City in 1999 and then started her own business, Food & Balance, to help people adopt healthier eating habits.
But as time progressed, Deborah came to see her mission in broader terms, and to view food as just one component of guiding clients toward more fulfilling lives.
In 2013, Deborah rebranded her business “Desire on Fire” and formally broadened her focus to life coaching. “Her aim was to help her clients lead their best lives, from relationships to parenting to work,” Sam explained. “It was all encompassing for her.”
Through Desire on Fire, Deborah led small support groups—referred to as “Desire on Fire Circles”—consisting of a half dozen women each. Under Deborah’s leadership, participants pushed each other to pursue their passions.
“She spoke her truth during these circles. She was able to tell people what they wouldn’t or couldn’t see for themselves, always in a loving way, but not stopping until she was heard,” said Joy Perlow, one of Deborah’s’ closest friends and a Circle participant. “That was a key part of the Circles: being heard.”
In recent weeks, Joy said that Desire on Fire clients have discussed ways to honor Deborah’s memory, first and foremost by leading their lives as she led hers. “Deborah lived and breathed her business: It’s what she tried to do in her life, find happiness and help other people do the same,” Rosie added.
Deborah’s giving nature extended beyond her business: over the past decade, she supported a school for orphans in Kenya called the Green Olive Children’s Home, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the organization and bringing supplies when she visited it each year.
On July 22, family and friends gathered in Naples, Florida to celebrate Deborah. Speakers included her sister, stepbrother, and husband Sam.
“Honey, you were amazingly impactful, powerful beyond words, and most certainly successful in ways that cannot be measured,” Sam said in the closing remarks of the service. “You will be missed, remembered and quoted by so many people, which is the truest measure of what you accomplished both in your work, and in how you lived your life.”
Deborah is survived by her father, Geoffrey Nelson of Mombasa, Kenya; her mother, Barbara Cohen of Naples, Florida; her sister, Margaret Islin of Essex, England; her children, Joshua of New York City, Zachary of Asheville, North Carolina and Leandra of South Salem, New York; and her husband, Sam Shimer of St. Petersburg, Florida.
David Shimer is one of Deborah’s three stepchildren.
Deborah’s Top Ten Wisdoms
Deborah’s husband Sam gave a loving tribute at her memorial service on July 22nd in Naples, FL. A highlight for those who knew Deborah is excerpted below:
Based on my years of conversations with Deborah, what I heard her say to others countless times, as well as my perspective about what she might want me to say, I am going to share the Top Ten things that Deborah would want conveyed to you on her behalf as we are here to remember her today. Of course, it will be without her beautiful accent, which you can imagine as I go through the list. I am sure that you heard many of these from her over the years.
- Love each other. All of you. Just love each other and the people who matter to you. And not quietly or stoically. Tell each other how you feel and show it with a fierce hug.
- Speak your truth. Holding things in doesn’t help. If you can say it in a gentle and loving way, try to do so. But speak up. No matter what.
- Spend time outside, breathe deeply, watch the birds, watch the butterflies. Appreciate nature…without your smart phone!
- Don’t settle; settling takes the air out of your life. It might be the easy choice–but don’t do it.
- Laugh about good things; laugh bad things off; just laugh. And let go of anger; be forgiving.
- Believe in yourself. You are more powerful than you understand; and if you don’t believe it, no one else will either.
- Food is your fuel–would you put lousy gas in your car? Eat well and take care of yourself. And, of course, don’t drink diet soda!
- Be generous–if you have money be generous with it. And we all can be generous with our time. Help people, listen, and care.
- Don’t wait for tomorrow to do something that you want to do today or some time soon. Trust me. Take that trip; launch that business; tell someone how you feel. You can run out of time.
- Think about me from time to time. I am still here, in your hearts and minds. If I can help you with a memory or insight, reach out for me. Listen quietly, and I will answer you.