C. Preston Shackelford lived as she died, with determination, intelligence and verve. She had a special capacity to celebrate the many blessings that flowed from her fierce flair for creating opportunities for herself and her loved ones. She expressed her love and joy through her desire to live life to its fullest and enjoy sharing it all with family and friends.
Born January 30, 1948, Preston grew up in Virginia, attended Smith College and completed her bachelor’s degree at SUNY, Old Westbury, NY. She earned her JD at Bolt Law School, UC Berkeley, and in 1974 moved to Napa where she became the only woman practicing law at the time. Specializing in family law, Preston had a long and distinguished career as partner in Coombs and Dunlap before retiring in 2011. Preston’s success was fueled by her commitment to her clients and her desire to help families solve their problems through mediation and negotiation. She also served as city attorney for Yountville and was the first woman to join Napa Rotary.
Political activism was a major focus for Preston in the 1960’s when she supported civil rights, women’s rights and the peace movement, marching and organizing to bring about change. She took a hiatus from political involvement during her professional and family years, but returned vigorously to the fray following the presidential election of 2016. Wearing her pussy hat, Preston marched proudly in the 2017 Napa Women’s March and organized a huddle of women who continue to be active, especially in the Sanctuary Movement to advocate for and protect immigrant families in Napa Valley. Preston was an early proponent of the right to die, attending rallies and working to support passage of the bill in CA.
It was Preston’s devotion to family that brought her the deepest pleasure. In 1985, she and John Todd met on a Sierra Club hike and soon fell in love. When they married, Preston was catapulted into the arms of the Todd family, throwing herself mind, heart and soul into family life. Her biggest joy and accomplishment in life was helping John raise his daughters Jennifer and Cynthia, and then on Preston’s 50th birthday, she and John adopted their beloved daughter Morgan Leigh Todd.
For Preston, family life overflowed with fun and adventure. With her keen intellect and competitive spirit, Preston enjoyed playing bridge and forged lasting friendships through the various recreational activities she enjoyed. John was a consummate sailor; they bought a series of spiffy sailboats and, through many years of fierce sailing competition often came home with trophies. They enjoyed family outings to ski at North Star, boat, boogie board and water ski at Clear Lake, and hike and camp throughout California. John and Preston were devoted to their girls, and with deep devotion, they supported each other through the thick and thin of life.
Preston was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and John nursed her back to health. When the tables turned, Preston cared lovingly and tenderly for John last fall during his four-month journey with leukemia. She and the family were by his side when he died the week after Thanksgiving. By Christmas, Preston knew her cancer had returned. She began treatment again, but this time experienced a terrible reaction and began to ready herself to walk the path of death with dignity.
In the final weeks of her life, Preston received a stream of friends, deeply enjoying the many visits, loving conversations and shared memories. Her 70th birthday request for a showering of gifts to celebrate Morgan’s baby (coming in August) was a lovely and poignant occasion with birthday balloons, poppers and party hats. She was determined to put all of her affairs in order, assuring the well-being of her daughters and happily dispensed detailed final instructions. Her clarity and sense of well-being were reassuring to all who visited her in the final weeks.
Preston died at the Sisemore family home in Petaluma surrounded by her loved ones. She will be missed by daughters Jennifer Kouisis with Stassi and Konstantine, Cynthia and her husband Adam Sisemore with Christopher and Bridget, and Morgan Todd with her fiancé Jhett Brewer. She is lovingly remembered by John’s mother, Noni, and her siblings Shack and Mary Shackelford and Kem Courtenay. Good journey.
In lieu of flowers, Preston and her family appreciate donations to Puertas Albiertas to assist our undocumented neighbors or to the Sanctuary Committee of the Napa Methodist Church. At Preston’s request, there will be no memorial service.