Gloria Smith, 1922 - 2017

by Placerville Newswire / Aug 08, 2017 / comments

[Kirk Callan Smith]

Gloria Kirk Smith, 9/16/1922 - 8/1/2017   
 
When she was a little girl, her mother told her: “Gloria, we trained you to be independent.  But you’ve taken it too far!”  Gloria Kirk Smith, from a long line of independent women, passed away on August 1st about six weeks short of her 95th birthday.
 
She died exactly where she wanted to be, in her home atop Sacramento hill on property that had been with her family for more than a century.  Family was at her side. 
 
Though short in stature, barely more than 5 feet, she had a big heart and was fiercely loyal to her family and the town she loved.  Gloria and her husband, the late Thomas Callan Smith, owned a number of rental properties for more than sixty years.
 
Serving as an early day business incubator, they helped a great many scores of Placerville residents get started in business, made possible because of affordable rent on very attractive terms, like a month to month tenancy confirmed with nothing more than a handshake.  
 
They pridefully looked at their commercial tenants as all but members of the family.  Gloria collected a foot-tall stack of newspaper clippings about their commercial tenants and their successes.
 
They felt the same way about a great many of their residential tenants who with affordable rent were able to save for buying their first home.   Mike Raffety, for example, a long-time editor of the Mountain Democrat, rented his first place from the Smiths when he first came to town long ago to work for the paper that was then located on Main Street next to the Hardware Store. 
 
Gloria asked one of their commercial tenants, John Sanders of the Old Town Grill, “Now, exactly how long have you been here?”  John with a big laugh said, “When I had hair and before yours turned white.”
 
Gloria did the bookkeeping for her husband’s Shell Station on Main Street in the 1950’s.  That’s when she started a very large coin collection of mostly old silver dollars brought back by gasoline customers returning from gambling at the lake. 
 
Later, she worked long hours in the family grocery store, the Drive-In Market at 115 Main Street that had earlier Tom Raley’s first market.  That was a day when you could still know most of your customers.
 
She was an active supporter of historic preservation efforts in town like backing the successful efforts to save the Herrick Building that she remembers was home to the town’s Post Office on the second floor.  
 
Her description of that mail collection spot sounded much like a modern Facebook page, a social hub where, in the absence of rural mail delivery, town folks regularly met their neighbors to keep up on current events; “Hey Joe, got any color in your mine?” or “Sue, how’s the pear crop this year?”
 
In recent years, she complained about post office visits; “You never see anybody you know there anymore.”  Gloria, supporting many causes, and was also one of the major financial backers of the still pending litigation to stop the town’s courthouse from being closed, much as she and her husband joined other members of the business community in the 1970’s to save it from demolition when it was deemed not to be up to earthquake standards.  
 
Gloria often expressed disappointment with city efforts to mess things up, as she saw it, like trying to build a roundabout, selling the old city hall buildings (she remembers when it was used to house the county library), and moving the Druid’s Monument, and blamed those things on “those newcomers.”  

When asked to define newcomers she said, “Anyone who moved here after WWII.”  Her family suspects Gloria’s mother would have said it was after World War One.
 
Gloria supported Measure K nearly five years ago in response the city’s stubborn 8 year-long effort to build a roundabout, signing ballot statements among other things, and told reporters: “It’s an absolutely asinine idea.”   She was never accused of being bashful.
 
Like her mother before her, Gloria learned to drive cars at a young age and was an excellent shot with the long rile her grandfather gave her as a child.    And just as her mother had served our country during WWI, supporting General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force in France, Gloria served our country during the WWII. That started in the midst of her second year of college and she left to work for the government, teaching factory workers at a vital aircraft plant in Mississippi.
 
Gloria read several newspapers daily throughout her life but slowed in recent years to just one or two.  She had a life-long fascination with old expressions along with their origins.  She collected a number of books on that subject, which may have added to her very long list of “Gloriaisms,” many that cannot be printed.  Apart from family collection of photographs of Placerville, she had one the largest collection of photo postcards of our town.
 
Gloria called buildings in town by their original name, like calling the city's Town Hall the “Purity,” home of a grocery store that occupied that spot many decades before. After finally giving up driving several years ago, she would complain if some shortcut was taken to drive home.  Instead, she insisted on going down Main Street, a place that had no street numbers when she grew up here. 
 
Business listings in newspapers or in the phone book would give only the name of the street, not a number, since everybody knew where to find buildings and people in her early day.   The address for grandparent’s home was listed in the phone book nearly a century ago, not with a street number or even “Coon Hollow Road,” but simply as the “Kirk Ranch.”
 
Why? Because, as she said, if you were from here you knew where everybody was, it was just beyond Simon’s house on the corner and across from the “Simpson Ranch,” home of neighbor Charlie Simpson who delivered mail on Main Street when she was small.  The town changed some since then, but not Gloria, as those who knew her would attest.
 
She was given a pacemaker at Marshall Hospital on May 1st when her pulse suddenly dropped to below 60 beats a minute. That was enough to provide several extra priceless months for her and those nearest to her, although a weakened heart was not expected to last forever.
 
She and her husband rented the building used by Snowline Hospice when it first came to town many to use as their first Thrift Shop and it was Snowline that lovingly provided very valiant and angelic care for both Tom and Gloria, each during their last few weeks on earth. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to pay homage are invited to contribute to Snowline Hospice, a group that keeps giving back so much.
 
Oh, and that photo of her on a horse?  It was taken at the home of a local friend when she was a sophomore at El Dorado High School.  Despite her broad smile of confidence, it was actually her first time on a horse.  And judging from the terrified face of that animal, the horse must have been pleased that it was also her last time riding.
 
 Graveside services are being planned for the morning September 16th at Union Cemetery on B Street.  It is the resting place for a number of generations of Gloria’s family that dearly cherished this town along with its values and history.