Mrs. Sheila Patricia Mullin Cardano, age 99, passed away in the early moon-lit morning of May 27, 2021, at her daughter’s residence in Cape Charles, VA, surrounded by the love of family. Cherished wife, mother, Nonna (grandmother), and great-grandmother, Sheila was an inspired actress, writer, playwright, director, teacher, and artist. Her journey led her from England to Italy to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where she planted her final roots and shared her passion for theatre and the arts.
Sheila was born on July 8, 1921, in London, England, daughter of the late Patrick Daniel, an administrator of the London County Council, and Anne Fanning Mullin, both of Irish descent.
She was preceded in death by her beloved husband of 60 years, Renato Cardano; her devoted son, Patrick Daniel Cardano; and her brother, Terrance Mullin.
From an early age, Sheila began writing and illustrating stories and poems and writing songs. She attended St. Aloysius Convent, an all-girls’ Catholic school in London, and studied piano, violin, dancing, and elocution. Every summer she and her parents would journey across the Irish Sea by steamboat to Ireland, her parents’ homeland. Sheila especially enjoyed visiting her uncle, Michael Mullin, a poet known as the “Bard of Foremass,” who encouraged her imagination.
Amidst the London air raids of World War II, Sheila studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). When the war ended in 1945, she joined a theatre company near London, and for several years was a promising and successful actress, receiving accolades for the many roles she played, including Rosalind in As You Like It, Tatiana in Midsummer Nights Dream, and Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. She often had two full parts memorized at once, one in rehearsal and one in performance.
In 1948, while playing Viola in Twelfth Night at the Sheffield Playhouse, Sheila met Renato Cardano, an Italian metallurgist and chemist who was studying steelmaking in England. He proposed to her on a train; they married on April 20, 1949, in a quiet wedding with family and a few friends, and honeymooned in Ireland.
Sheila retired from the stage to move with her husband to Italy, where they resided for forty years, first in Terni, then in Rome, and finally in Terracina on the Tyrrenian Sea. Renato worked as the general manager of a steel and metallurgical research center, and Sheila continued to write, draw, and create art with different mediums. Together they raised their three children, Patrick, Clelia, and Luisa. Sheila’s parents joined them in Italy and spent their final years there. The tragic death of their son, Patrick, in 1979, ruptured their lives; Sheila coped through writing and her Catholic faith.
Both of Sheila’s daughters, Clelia and Luisa, met and married American Navy officers in 1980 and moved to the United States, making memorable trips back to Italy every summer with their children. In 1989, Sheila and Renato followed their daughters to America. They found peace and tranquility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where they lived together for twenty years in their home on the Chesapeake Bay near Cape Charles. Renato created beautiful Mediterranean gardens for Sheila and their children and grandchildren to enjoy. Sheila and Renato, known as Nonna and Nonno, developed sweet routines in their daily life. Every morning, Renato would start Sheila’s day with a tray of tea. Every afternoon, Sheila would retire to her room where she would rest, write, and reflect, until Renato joined her for their afternoon tea and conversation about the world’s events and their latest projects. Every evening, they watched the sunset together. They radiated love and friendship. They were proud to become American citizens on September 12, 2001, among the first group of citizens to be sworn in after the events of 9-11.
Sheila’s creativity blossomed during their retirement years on the Shore. Her daughter, Clelia, ignited a nonprofit, Arts Enter Cape Charles, renovating the Historic Palace Theatre and bringing together theatre lovers to produce many of Sheila’s plays, beginning with a full house for the very first Arts Enter production, Magia. Sheila wrote and produced over a dozen original plays, most notably Piece of Eden, a retelling of the history of the Eastern Shore in collaboration with Jean Collins and Gwen Skeens. Sheila also directed numerous plays by other playwrights, particularly British dramas and comedies. Clelia created the scenic design for Sheila’s plays and often performed and eventually directed plays herself; her daughter, Luisa, and her grandchildren also played numerous parts. Sheila’s spirit lives on in the vibrant arts community in Cape Charles. Many remember her emphatic directing, particularly her insistence on better diction. She was not afraid to ask a complete stranger to be in one of her plays, and dearly loved those who became a part of her troupe for many productions over the years.
Sheila’s poetry was published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She published several books: Patrick, a compilation of stories, poems, and illustrations about grieving the loss of her son; Tail of the Squirrel and Other Tales: Stories for Children; and Plays for All Seasons, a collection of her original plays. She also wrote childrens’ songs. Her writing revealed her pure heart and true soul, and often opened a precious doorway into a child’s world of fantasy and innocence.
Sheila was a devout Catholic and active member of St. Charles Catholic Church. She taught her grandchildren and several of their friends catechism and enjoyed serving as a lector, her diamond-clear voice resonating with conviction. Sheila was dedicated to arranging flowers for the altar and for many years compiled the church bulletin. A family meal was not complete without a prayer from Nonna. She was deeply passionate about the importance of staying connected to the spiritual world through her faith. She often had words of wisdom to share, reminding us to give ourselves time to think and be and not always do, to “have a good cry” if we needed to, and to be aware that once words are spoken, they can never be reversed.
Sheila’s elegance, grace, and beauty emanated naturally from her with every step. She was known for her sharp wit, vibrant style, and depth of soul. She was not shy to tell you what she thought, and gave the most beautiful, heartfelt gifts of art and poems. She was shaped by her early experiences of living through the Great Depression and World War II, and saved every piece of aluminum foil. She understood the art of conversation, and had close relationships with each of her family members and many friends. She had a spark in her blue eyes that was impossible to ignore.
In her later years after her husband passed away, Sheila was cared for lovingly by her two daughters, in Luisa and Victor’s home, and by very special people, including Andrea Price, Cynthia Dempster, Cindy Vera Rodriguez, Dr. Mark Clarke, Dr. John Sheppard, Victor Gazzolo, Father Michael Breslin, and many other angels, to whom the family will be forever grateful.
Sheila is survived by two daughters and sons-in-law, Clelia Cardano Sheppard (John) of Cape Charles, and Luisa Gazzolo (Victor) of Cape Charles; seven grandchildren, Veronica Malone (Patrick), Renata Sheppard, Patrick Gazzolo (Melanie), Sheila Sheppard, John (Sean) Sheppard (Magda), Michael Gazzolo (Kyleigh), and Clelia Jane Sheppard; and five great-grandchildren, Charlotte and Kevin Malone, Aven Lovelady, Dylan and Luca Gazzolo, and John Daniel Sheppard, IV (Jack). She also leaves other friends, family, and many students and thespians who fondly remember her.
Funeral service will be held at 12 noon on Sunday, May 30, 2021, at St. Charles Catholic Church in Cape Charles, VA, with Father Michael Breslin officiating. Burial will follow in the Cape Charles Cemetery. A reception will follow at the home of Luisa and Victor Gazzolo. Sheila’s family will serve as pallbearers. Condolences may be sent to the family at foxfuneralhomes.com. In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated at St. Charles Catholic Church and/or Arts Enter Cape Charles.
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St. Charles Catholic Church
545 Randolph Ave., Cape Charles VA 23310
301 Mason Ave., Cape Charles VA 23310