A life well lived. That describes the 101+ years our mother spent on this earth. And as fulfilled, and fulfilling, as her life was, we know she regrets not reaching her 102nd birthday, because she was looking forward to yet another party. And my, how she loved parties! Especially when her family celebrated in style with her, as we did for her 100th birthday in 2021.
Jean was born in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, one of five children and the only girl. Her brothers preceded her in death. Family meant the world to her: the two of us; Karen’s spouse, George, and Scott’s spouse, Jocelyn; and, perhaps most important, her beloved grandchildren, Matthew Martin Smith and Olivia Jean Smith. Nothing thrilled her more than watching them achieve. She was so proud of Matt for graduating from medical school and beginning his career as a doctor, following in the footsteps of a grandfather he never knew. She relished her frequent phone calls and visits from him throughout the years. But she and Olivia had a special bond, and they loved to share root beer floats! Mom looked forward to watching Olivia practice her dance routines in her presence, since she wasn’t able to attend her performances. And, Mom welcomed and recounted phone calls from her niece, Kathryn Kramer, who often chatted with her Aunt Jean from her home in Bossier City, Louisiana.
The love of Mom’s life was her husband and our father, Dr. Jacques (Jack) Martin Smith. After graduating from St. Agnes School of Nursing in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Mom practiced nursing at a Chicago hospital where she met Jack. She then moved to Oakland, California, to work as a registered nurse when Dad was in the medical corps and stationed at Fort Beale. They married in Kaukauna in 1946 and moved to Chicago, where we were born and raised. Their relationship was one to admire and emulate. Dad described her early in their marriage as “the only wife in the world for me.” They lived their love, creating so many beautiful memories of family vacations, wintertime picnics, camping trips, hunting and fishing expeditions, and, eventually, golfing holidays. Mom embraced Dad’s love for the outdoors, and they passed that love on to their children. What a gift that was! They were also partners in their professional lives. She worked in Dad’s office and, after he died in 1991, she volunteered at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he had served as chief of staff.
But even though Mom was a willing partner on the trout stream or on a pack trip, she loved the finer things, too. She dressed impeccably, always color-coordinated and adorned with jewelry and classy shoes, whether she was going out to dinner or to the grocery store. Some of her fondest memories were of spending several Aprils in Paris, celebrating her birthday with our father. She loved to shop, and whenever Karen came back to Chicago to visit, Mom loved their shopping expeditions to J Crew—even into her 90s—where the retail staff gushed over her. (She liked that, too.) More recently, granddaughter Olivia took over and introduced Mom to Lululemon, where she bought one of her last outfits a year ago, advised expertly by Olivia. When they entertained their many friends, Mom and Dad served cocktails at our home in Steuben glass tumblers and dinner on fine china. Mom was a wonderful cook and baker. She never, ever used a mix of any kind. Brownies and cakes were always made from scratch, and her chicken and dumplings made in the pressure cooker were unmatched. Scott has inherited her skills in the kitchen and her penchant for entertaining.
Mom will be laid to rest in Kaukauna. Per her wishes, the family will celebrate her life at a Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church where she and Dad married in 1946. She’ll be buried in the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery. Her Catholic faith was important to Mom. Until she lost her eyesight a few years ago, she would watch Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago on television after she was no longer able to walk to church.
As she told us many times during the last few months, Mom was ready to die and to join Dad in heaven. Though she had outlived her friends, she was content with the long life she had, with the blessings she was given, and with the contributions she made to her family and to the world around her. How fortunate for all of us that she passed peacefully. We will miss her, but we are thankful she was a part of our lives for so many decades. She is at rest, and she leaves behind a meaningful legacy. We’ll raise a glass and enjoy a cake on her 102nd birthday. We expect she’ll be watching!
Contributions may be made in her name to:
Uniting Voices Chicago (formerly Chicago Children’s Choir)
78 E. Washington St. #5
Chicago, IL 60602
--Karen Smith Baker and Scott Robert Smith, on behalf of the Smith Family