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Theresa Smith was born on December 3, 1925 in Materson, NJ. She died in Williamsville on March 2, 2005, at age 80. Theresa Smith was great grandmother of one, grandmother of five of us, mother of three, sibling of three sisters and two brothers, and wife to one great man, my grandfather, Ron Smith.
It's hard for me to reflect upon my grandmother's life because I was part of it for a little less than half its span. A lot of ideas went through my head at a million miles an hour, few of them stuck with me. One thought I had after my uncle asked me to consider saying a few words was that it was hard to understand my grandmother without also knowing my grandfather.
My grandmother and grandfather got married in 1938. They spent a lot of their early married life in the Morristown, NJ area where my grandfather was a schoolteacher and later a principal. He earned his doctorate in education during that time, which ultimately allowed him to become a professor at Glassboro State College in Southern New Jersey. They moved to Glassboro in the late 1950s with their children, Sharon and Dennis. This was my grandparent's home until around the time my grandfather died in 1982.
During this period, my grandmother managed to have a 20-year career as an elementary school teacher and a remedial reading teacher at the elementary and middle school levels. I think the reason that she taught at that time was because she was committed to helping the community, and we would continue to see this trait in her when she volunteered at hospitals in North Jersey and in this area, later in life.
My grandfather was the kind of man who loved my grandmother and supported her in every way, including her career. He was well known in New Jersey and probably throughout the country as a leader of the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey Retired Educators' Association. He wrote several books on educational practice and educational law in the State of New Jersey.
My grandparents had a great life together. They traveled extensively, particularly after they retired. They visited their children and grandchildren often, and were very involved in our lives and what mattered to us.
It was a tremendous shock to all of us when my grandfather passed away in 1982.
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Looking back, this was the first time I realized the depth of her faith in God. My sister told me yesterday that she thinks of Grandma as "a strong woman with great faith who endured the death of two children and her husband."
I have no idea how difficult it must have been to see my uncle, James III, die in infancy. But, I know what my grandmother went through with my grandfather's death in 1982 and my mother's death in 1991. I don't think she could have survived either of those sudden losses without special help from the Holy Spirit.
My grandmother moved to Buffalo shortly after my mother's death in late 1991. After she settled in, she volunteered at one of the local hospitals. This was a continuation of her practice from when she lived near my family in New Jersey. She continued to volunteer at the hospital for several years, while she participated in many family activities with my aunt and uncle's family on a day-to-day basis.
Until relatively recently, my grandmother was in very good health. Her biggest difficulty most of the time was insomnia. She turned this into something fairly positive by developing a voracious appetite for reading. Christie told me that when she first arrived in Williamsville, Grandma went to the library on Friday or Saturday, checked out 13 books, and had them read by Wednesday. Julie says that she could read a 400-page book in under 48 hours. At this point in her life, Grandma also loved crossword puzzles and baking cookies.
These were just the latest manifestations of my grandmother's late night habits. Probably only a few people outside our immediate family remember her incredible cake decorating and crocheting skills. Those activities fell by the wayside in later years due to her arthritis, but my brother Scott still sleeps with an afghan my grandmother made for him. I have nice one with a racecar on it myself.
In the last year of her life, my grandmother said to me more than once, "Don't ever get old." I thought about this for quite some time, watching her struggle with physical difficulties from which she would never quite recover. I decided that this was one piece of advice she gave me that I'm going to try to ignore. I don't know about you, but I'd be so much less complete as a person if she followed her own advice.
If she hadn't gotten old, I wouldn't have seen such a great example of finding new interests and developing new skills. She showed us how we can continue to make a contribution to our families and our communities.
If she hadn't gotten old, I probably wouldn't have realized the power of prayer or the way God can intervene in your life and change your outlook, the way He so obviously did for her.
If she hadn't gotten old, she wouldn't have been around to talk to me and encourage me all those times I called her from the car on my mobile phone.
I think all of these qualities were present in my grandmother for years. But, if she hadn't gotten old, I wouldn't have had time to mature enough to see them for what they really were.
And so, I'm going to disobey my grandmother this one time, because I want to try to have the same kind of impact that she had on members of her family and on her community. I urge the members of my family and our friends assembled here today to join me in the effort to eventually get old.
Thank you very much, and God bless us all.