Shirley Ann Mathis (McBay), Ph.D., was born in 1935 in Bainbridge, Georgia, the daughter of Annie Bell Washington (Stevens Williams Pringley). She attended Hutto Elementary and excelled in mathematics early on, defeating older students in math competitions. After graduating from high school at 15-years-old, she attended Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, and graduated with a degree in chemistry at the age of 19.

After she completed her undergraduate degree she enrolled in Atlanta University where she earned master's degrees in both chemistry and mathematics.

After marrying Henry McBay, professor of chemistry, Atlanta University, and starting a family, she began pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, but transferred to the University of Georgia to be closer to home.

At UGA, she was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the institution in any discipline.

She joined Spelman as a professor of mathematics and served in the administration, ultimately rising to be chair of the Division of Natural Sciences.

In 1975, she began working for the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., reviewing grant proposals. In 1980, she became Dean of Students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she spearheaded an institution-wide self-study of the obstacles hindering success among minority students.

The recommendations from that report led to the creation of the Quality Education for Minorities project at M.I.T. In 1990, she left M.I.T. to establish the Quality Education for Minorities Network in Washington, D.C., for which she served as president. The QEM Network is a nonprofit dedicated to improving education for women and underrepresented minority students, faculty and institutions nationwide.

In 2016, she retired and moved to Las Vegas as the housemate of her lifelong best friend, Audrey F. Manley, MD, C'55, the eighth president of Spelman and the first alumna to lead the institution.

In 2018, due to deteriorating health, she moved to Los Angeles and lived with her first son, Michael McBay.

She died November 27, 2021, at the age of 86. She is survived by her eldest son Michael McBay of Los Angeles, and her youngest son Ronald McBay of Atlanta, and "the daughter she never had" Laura-Lee Davidson of Washington, D.C.

Condolences may be left at Westwood Mortuary in Los Angeles, CA.

The family requests in lieu of flowers, that community members donate to the Quality Education for Minorities Network.

Visit the Shirley M. McBay tribute page on to leave a personal tribute.

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