Updated at 10:15 a.m. May 4, 2015
She was 91. Cause of death was not given, but the notice said she “passed away peacefully at home surrounded by her family.”
Lily Koppel, whose book “The Astronaut Wives Club” has been made into an ABC series to premiere in June, told Times of San Diego that Jo Schirra “was utterly gracious and formal.”
“The other Mercury wives knew her as the ‘perfect Navy wife’ who would always show up to functions with perfect pearls and gloves on,” Koppel said Monday. “She also had a wry sense of humor — she had to to compete with her husband who was known as the practical joker among the alpha male astronauts.”
Wally Schirra was competitive even with his wife, Koppel said, and they vied in sports.
“When she won a tennis match against him — to protect his ego, she wouldn’t let this out. When I visited her, she remembered her days as an Astro Wife fondly and we paged through her numerous carefully kept scrapbooks from back in the day.”
Some of the younger Mercury 7 wives had “sour grapes” to relate because of all the divorces that ensued after the Apollo program, Jo noted but said she had a wonderful, exciting life, Koppel said.
“Into her 80s, she said she still swam and took an occasional cocktail and tried to enjoy what she called ‘the gracious life.’ Her home was filled of pictures of the astronauts and their wives and space memorabilia. On her bookshelf was the old Navy primer ‘The Navy Wife,’ with all the rules she once followed to a T.”
Capt. Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr., who died in 2007 at age 84 at a La Jolla hospital, was the fifth American in space, flying a six-orbit, nine-hour Mercury-Atlas 8 mission on Oct. 3, 1962.
In the Gemini program, he made the first space rendezvous in December 1965. He commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day orbital test of the three-man Apollo command module in October 1968 — the first person to go into space three times.
His widow’s death came as a TV dramatic series was preparing to air on ABC, based on Lily Koppel’s book “The Astronaut Wives Club.”
“As America’s astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, the lives of their young wives were transformed, seemingly overnight, from military spouses to American royalty,” ABC says in a promotion. “As their celebrity rose, and tragedy began to touch their lives, they rallied together.”
Only three Project Mercury wives are alive — Scott Carpenter’s former wife, Rene; John Glenn’s wife, Annie, and Gus Grissom’s widow, Betty. Glenn is the lone survivor of the original seven.
Josephine was the daughter of Donald and Josephine Fraser, born and raised in Seattle. She spent a year in Coronado.
“She married her husband Wally Schirra in 1946,” her death notice said. “Then the real adventure began. She was very proud to be a Navy wife and one of the original first seven astronaut wives.”
The U-T reported in 2007 that the Schirras had lived in Solana Beach and Del Mar during Schirra’s two assignments as a test pilot at Miramar Naval Air Station in the 1950s.
Jo was depicted as a sun worshiper with a great love of nature and all outdoor sports.
“She loved the mountains, wildlife and wild flowers but the sea had a strong hold,” the notice said. It led “to a wonderful home in Kauai and a permanent residence in Rancho Santa Fe in 1984.”
In March 2009, Josephine helped launch the Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Schirra into San Diego Bay.
Jo Schirra is survived by her son, Walter M. Schirra III, of San Francisco, and daughter, Suzanne Schirrra of Vail, Colorado. In lieu of flowers, people were asked to make a donation to The Nature Conservancy, The National Parks Foundation or The Humane Society in her name.
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