Salisbury mourns former Council President Smith

Whatever the project before her, former Salisbury City Council President Louise Smith would quietly and methodically rise to the challenge, never complaining or seeking personal glory.

Louise Smith.

On Tuesday, Smith died at her home at Mallard Landing in Salisbury. She had celebrated her 80th birthday on April 16, and shortly after that came her cancer diagnosis.

“She often said ‘I’ve had a very good life,” said Robin Holloway, recalling her friendship with Smith.

Holloway last saw her friend two weeks ago when, despite her rapidly advancing cancer, Smith was “very coherent and gracious.”

“She persevered in good humor as her diagnosis quickly became exponentially worse,” said Holloway. “Through it all, she was faithful and grateful.”

Smith was born April 16, 1940, in Salisbury, the daughter of the late Blanche and Bill Smith. A 1958 Wicomico High School graduate, she earned an Art Education degree from Southern Seminary Junior College in 1960, a bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute of Art in 1963 and a master’s in Education from the University of South Florida in 1977.

Her 30-year career in public education was spent in Florida, where she held positions ranging from classroom teacher to dean of students, coordinator of exceptional student education and welfare, bilingual specialist and director of the law department for bilingual education, all with the Lee County Public School system in Fort Myers.

Smith returned to Salisbury in 1997, where her post-retirement life of public service began with her election to the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, for which she served as secretary for four years.

She was subsequently elected to the Salisbury City Council and served one term in office as Council President, from 2007 through 2011.

During her term on the council, she worked hard.

“She did a lot that I don’t think people realize,” said City Council Vice President Muir Boda. “She showed true, strong leadership on how to be effective, get things done and inspire people. She helped a lot of departments organize and develop systems for managing daily paperwork. She spent a lot of time on that kind of behind-the-scenes work.”

She told him this was not necessarily the job she was elected to do, but it needed to be done — and she wanted to help people all she could.

‘Gave it her all’

“She was always finding a better way to do things,” Boda said. “She took no vacations. She just gave it her all every day, and we are all better for it. I know when she served with Mayor Jim (Ireton) he would get frustrated with things, but he had tremendous respect for her. I learned a lot by watching how she ran meetings, which is helpful to me now as Council Vice President, because I occasionally run meetings.”

Smith took Boda under her wing as he aspired to public office.

“She helped me a lot, taught me about the process and how things worked,” said Boda.

She shared with Boda her campaign blueprint. It was simple: Knock on every door you can before Election Day. That’s what he’s done every time he’s run for office.

“She used to log how she went up and down streets, marking them off,” Boda said. “She even showed me the shoes she wore while canvassing. She had worn holes into the soles.”

For all her accomplishments in public service, for all the organizations and boards she served on in Salisbury — and as much as she was admired and respected and looked up to — few people felt they really knew much about her on a personal level.

Smith always maintained her professional demeanor.

“She was always good to me, one of the first contributors to Red, White and Boom,” said Mike Dunn, President and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee. “Yet looking at the comments on social media, not a lot of people really knew her personally.”

Smith naturally seemed to gravitate toward leadership roles.

“She was a great lady,” Dunn said. “She went about her work quietly and effectively. She ran meetings like the educator she was. She got herself elected to City Council and did a nice job as Council President. Then she went back to being a private citizen.”

A ‘bona fide executive’

Eleanor Mulligan lived next door to Smith at Canal Woods for many years.

“She was a bona fide executive,” Mulligan said of Smith. “I think she loved being in charge and was born to that, whatever it was she was doing.”

After moving in, Smith became president of the Condo Association at Canal Woods.

“She ran things like a professional,” Mulligan said. “And she would graciously welcome each new resident with a gift, like wine or food.”

Mulligan said Smith told her around the 2019 holiday season she had been thinking of moving to Mallard Landing for a year.

“She had mobility problems,” Mulligan said, “and did move there finally. This has all transpired very rapidly.”

Mulligan and Smith remained friends, and the two women would call one another from time to time. Smith once dropped off some cat food for Mulligan’s cat, because Smith’s cat wouldn’t eat that particular food.”

“I called to thank her, and that’s when she told me the doctor had given her just a few more months,” Mulligan said.

Former Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt said learning of Smith’s passing was sad news for sure.

“She was an honest and honorable leader during a time of much turmoil in City Hall,” Pollitt said.

“I was always impressed by her grace and dignity, and how she seemed to rise above the drama caused by some of those around her,” He said. “Her community is better today because of her service, and I know she’s being remembered as a strong public leader, a great lady and a truly good human being.”

Ireton, who was Mayor during Smith’s time in office, recalls working with the retired educator to improve city neighborhoods.

“Her work in our Church Street neighborhood recycling hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash, the installation of miles of sidewalks not previously installed, her fierce devotion to her Canal Woods neighbors and her insistence that every meeting and milestone be recorded for Salisbury history — this will be her lasting legacy,” he said.

Preserving history

Recording history, developing processes and organization of papers was apparent throughout Smith’s life. She donated multiple, expansive and very organized family files to the Nabb Center about her time as a public education administrator, as well as her time on the Salisbury City Council.

She collected and arranged the files of her late mother’s life as a teacher and active churchwoman on the Eastern Shore during the early 1900s and she gathered and catalogued the significant files and papers of her late uncle, U.S. Sen. John S. Williams of Sussex County.

“I remember when the Nabb Center held a small reception to receive those materials,” said Holloway. “There was a total of 28.75 liner feet of notebooks, pictures, letters and files – the equivalent of 32 oversize boxes – all neat, catalogued, stacked and moved in on three long dollies. Only Louise could handle an undertaking like this!”

Holloway said Smith also put together a wonderful history of the Asbury United Methodist Church Altar Guild and identified the many special items used for sacraments.

“We often joked that her dining room table was used for museum archiving and Delmarva history,” Holloway said, “rather than the elaborate dinners of the ‘old days.’ Her love of education led her to establish a scholarship fund at the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore. I remember how gratified she was when her first scholarship was presented to a young woman from Salisbury.”

Smith also worked closely with then-City Clerk Brenda Colegrove and then-Assistant Clerk Kim Nichols.

“I worked closely with Louise,” said Nichols, “when Brenda was city clerk and I was assistant clerk. She was a wonderful lady who was led by her love for the Lord. She possessed such wit, compassion and generosity. She cared for the city and its citizens, advocated for the less-fortunate and took her job as City Council President very seriously. I will truly miss her.”

Colegrove and Smith kept in touch, and Colegrove said after she retired, Louise became one of her dearest friends.

“We talked with each other about three or four times a week,” Colegrove said, “and shared lots of laughter over lunch. It was never a dull moment with Louise around, and she was such a kind and thoughtful lady. I am going to miss having her in my life.”

Holloway recalls long conversations about Smith’s childhood growing up on Old Ocean City Road.

“As a small girl, she would visit with her neighbor, my husband’s great grandmother,” said Holloway. “Mame always had a special cookie for Louise. For the past 25 years, we have delivered a Christmas tin of those shortbread cookies to her – using the very same cookie cutter and recipe that Louise enjoyed more than seven decades ago. She loved those cookies and those memories.”

Holloway also recalls how Smith would arrange many of her high school class reunions as well as informal lunches with classmates from the Wi-Hi Class of 1958.

“She likewise organized frequent wine-and-cheese hours with her friends and neighbors at Canal Woods,” Holloway said. “She and her friends dined out regularly at Goin’ Nuts Café and often enjoyed dinner at Green Hill Yacht & Country Club to ring in the New Year.”

Former Mayor reflects

“I was with her the night she was elected (to City Council) and with her when she donated her public papers to the Nabb Center,” Ireton said. “It is clear her contributions to our city are much more than I may have realized at the time.

“Her passing struck deep as I looked back on her class and high expectations for herself and others. Louise was completely dedicated to setting an example of what public service should look like,” Ireton said.

“When we agreed, we did so completely. When we disagreed, we also did so completely. Yet always she made you try harder, which is all we can ask from those who serve in public office.”

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t speak kindly of her. She will be missed,” said Dunn.

A funeral service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Holloway Funeral Home in Salisbury. Interment will follow at Parsons Cemetery.

Contributions may be made to the Louise Smith Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, 1324 Belmont Ave., Suite 401, Salisbury, MD, 21804, or Asbury United Methodist Church Altar Guild, 1401 Camden Ave., Salisbury, MD 21801.

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