Shirley was raised in Farmington and Kaysville by her parents, Albert and Virginia Udy Epperson. She attended Davis High School until her family moved to Morgan, where they owned and operated the Morgan County News and the Summit County Bee. After graduating from Morgan High School, Shirley attended the University of Utah where she majored in journalism and lived in the Alpha Phi Sorority House. Shirley had beautiful red hair and a personality to match. In 1954, she was crowned as Salt Lake City’s Miss Flame, a beauty pageant held exclusively for redheads.