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Community ‘catalyst’ Fran Smith gave from her heart

['Fran Smith received an honourary degree from Mount Allison in 2005. ']
['Fran Smith received an honourary degree from Mount Allison in 2005. ']

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Two years ago this month, the community of Sackville lost one of its most beloved and generous philanthropists.

Frances Read Smith – a co-founder of the local Christmas Cheer program, a long-time member of the Sackville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, and a devout supporter of UNICEF, among many other charitable causes –  died Oct. 8, 2014, at the age of 101.

“This is certainly the end of an era,” Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, a retired physician from the Sackville area, as well as a former Canadian Senator, New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor and Tantramar MLA, told the Sackville Tribune-Post after Fran Smith’s death.

Trenholme Counsell recalled presiding over the 1999 ceremony when Smith received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian award and said Smith’s legacy in the community would not be forgotten.

“She just had such a profound presence in Sackville,” Trenholme Counsell said. “She cared deeply for her fellow citizens… she truly cared for the vulnerable and the needy.”

RELATED: History is her story, too

Frances Read Smith – a co-founder of the local Christmas Cheer program, a long-time member of the Sackville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, and a devout supporter of UNICEF, among many other charitable causes –  died Oct. 8, 2014, at the age of 101.

“This is certainly the end of an era,” Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, a retired physician from the Sackville area, as well as a former Canadian Senator, New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor and Tantramar MLA, told the Sackville Tribune-Post after Fran Smith’s death.

Trenholme Counsell recalled presiding over the 1999 ceremony when Smith received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian award and said Smith’s legacy in the community would not be forgotten.

“She just had such a profound presence in Sackville,” Trenholme Counsell said. “She cared deeply for her fellow citizens… she truly cared for the vulnerable and the needy.”

RELATED: History is her story, too

‘I just do what I think ought to be done'

Born in Stonehaven, N.B., Smith spent her youth in Sackville in the family home, which later became Marshlands Inn. She attended Mount Allison and graduated in home economics with a bachelor of science in 1935. She worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal as a dietitian until her marriage, when she made Sackville her home once again.

Smith was widely known in the community for her active volunteerism over the years. Described once as a “one-person catalyst for action in the community,” Smith just about did it all, but remained humble about her philanthropic efforts.

When she received the Caring Canadian Award, Smith said: “I just do what I think ought to be done. I don’t think I deserve an award for that.”

She was named Sackville’s first-ever Citizen of the Year, by the Kinsmen Club, and received an honourary degree from Mount Allison in 2005 – 70 years after her graduation.

Smith spearheaded many projects in the Sackville-area over her lifetime, including the Opportunity Shop, which provided people in need with used clothing, and the Christmas Cheer program. Smith was also a charter member of the Sackville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, where she is most remembered for her morning coffee cart duties at the blood lab, helped form a local UNICEF branch and a community project to help women and children in distress.

Fran Smith, just before her 100th birthday.

Widely admired

Sackville’s Bill Durant recalls working with Fran to get the Christmas Cheer program off the ground in 1968.

“I just found her a wonderful woman to work with, with Christmas Cheer and other community activities,” said Durant. “She was always just so well-organized in everything she did.”

Wallie Sears, another long-time volunteer in the community, said Fran was the “spark plug” behind many of the organizations and social programs that are still in place in Sackville today.

“She was the catalyst for everything,” said Sears. “I have nothing but admiration for this woman. She was tireless. She never seemed to run down. You name it, she was there.”

Beyond her formal volunteer roles, Smith’s home had an open-door policy to countless generations of Mount A students over the years while she raised her four children – providing a cup of coffee or a cot to sleep on, a shoulder to cry on or advice for those who needed it.

According to a Globe and Mail obituary by her children, Smith continued volunteering into her 90s.

Sears said Fran was always willing to lend a hand and expected no less of others.

“She did so much good for so many people,” he said.

Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on the SackvilleTribunePost.com in October 2014 as Local philanthropist Fran Smith dies at 101

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