“Our life evokes our character and you find out more about yourself as you go on.”
- said by Joseph Campbell, quoted by Arlene Smith in her book, Social Security - a Novel For Our Time
The world has one less ‘character’ since losing Arlene Emma Smith, on February 11, 2022. Whether you knew her as Arlene, Mom/Wow, Razor Clam, G-Maw or Schmoopy - you know, as one family member put it, there will “never be another like that girl”. Amen.
Arlene was born to parents who were in no way prepared for her. She lived in foster homes most of her childhood. That reality led her to embrace the idea of choosing your family, which in childhood was her best friend Retha and Retha’s folks. Those two ran around like sisters and were definitely double the trouble.
A Seattle native and a Queen Anne High School graduate, Arlene married her high school sweetheart, Robert Jones, moved across the country to Boston, Massachusetts (where she had Lupine), lived on Cape Cod with some Hells Angels (great babysitters, by the way), and then turned around to head back to the Pacific Northwest. Soon after, she divorced and, with Lupine, lived in Seattle until reconnecting with and then marrying college friend Tom Bourns. Turns out that geologists move a lot more than rocks do; from Battleground, Washington to Littleton, Colorado to Bainbridge Island, Washington, to Salt Lake City, Utah, and eventually to Helena, Montana.
Almost 11 years after her first daughter arrived, her second daughter, Cory, was born and joined the family journey. While living in Montana, life took another turn, and after her second divorce, she found her way back to her roots, living again on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. This would be the place where she would meet her soul mate, Larry Smith, one of her volunteers at Habitat for Humanity. They found something way more interesting than the monthly newsletter to collaborate on together.
Arlene made herself indispensable to every employer she had. She proved that showing up and working the room always pays off. Over the course of her career, she put her fundraising and event planning talents to use for many worthy organizations; Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Children’s Home in Helena, Montana, Habitat for Humanity, and Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. Her love for writing always played a role in her work, but predominantly so as a staff member of the Bainbridge Review, on Bainbridge Island, Washington where she was most proud of her local human interest stories and the chance to interview famous crime reporting journalist, Jack Olsen. She also worked for Pan Am airlines, Kelly Girl, and even had a stint as a bank teller in 1969 in Boston, while pregnant with Lupine, where she was held up at gunpoint (they didn’t know who they were dealing with obviously!). But her personal and professional life combined beautifully for the final 14 years of her employment when she and Larry purchased and managed the Alaskan Motel in Westport, Washington. They not only housed fisherman and tourists but were crucial to the lively arts festival and community happenings in Westport. Arlene even wrote an annual series of tales
about local pirate legend, Rusty Scupper. To complete the experience, Arlene and Larry (aka Razor Clam and Tide Flats) joined the local philanthropic pirate group and truly caused a ruckus of the best kind. Now, shiver me timbers, THAT is a diverse portfolio!
Retirement brought Arlene and Larry to Pahoa, Hawaii, where they had visited Retha and Lee for years. There, she enjoyed gardening (growing pineapples in their yard!), writing (she wrote a book!), and friends (Sundays at the Nut House and trips to the Black Rock Cafe & the VFW). The active lava flow, just one mile from their lovely jungle home, left her daughters constantly worried and out of cell communication. The gift that year was matching gas masks! Due to the slowest natural disaster ever, and in order to quiet the daughters incessant nagging (and after a bit of health trouble), Arlene and Larry found their way to Portland, Oregon in April of 2021. There they lived only a mile from both daughters. They learned to navigate apartment life, large, loud family dinners, and wearing jackets.
Arlene lived many lives but saved the best for last. When she and Larry found each other - something changed. She had found her person - her Schmoopy. Her daughters saw it immediately and are forever grateful for the love and life they shared. As partners, pirates, motel owners, haoles, retirees, and best friends, they added a whole lot of fun to this world.
Arlene was preceded in death by her dearest friend since kindergarten, Retha Dell, and by her son, Matthew, who passed shortly after birth. She is survived by her husband, Larry Smith, and her daughters, Lupine DeSnyder (Jeff) and Cory Hunter (Kyle) along with five grandchildren (Atlas, Violet, Tate, Marley, and Isla).
I still can’t believe that such a tiny body could contain so much spunk, spice, and sass. I (very lovingly) referred to her as The Cockroach, not for her ability to just endure, but to survive and thrive. Her life wasn’t easy - some was others doing, some was hers. But, somehow, against all logic, her glass was always half-full (usually with Franzia and ice) and her outlook on life gained her so many ardent fans. Friends of mine from middle school email out of the blue and say “I smelled your mom today at the grocery store!” Her signature aura of Jovan Musk (with cigarette smoke undertones) left an imprint on people, reminding them of her lingering impact on conversations, parties, and her circle of people - her chosen family.
She was my support system, my cautionary tale, my inspirational message, my cheerleader, my challenger, my confidant, my entertainment, my mentor, my biggest fan - my best friend and my mom. I can’t imagine this world without her, but I will - because the gift she gave to me, which took me years to truly see, is that I, too, keep my glass half-full (albeit a nice tempranillo), ready for my next adventure.
Our last family event was at their apartment - the Anni-birthday celebration (because when she and Larry finally tied the knot, it was on her birthday - for those who knew her, it was clear she loved Larry a lot if she was willing to share her birthday with anything!). I know that she knew it
would be the last time our families were all together. She made us take a family photo and I’m so thankful. Her final days were spent with us - Cory, Larry, and I - her “Team WOW”, caring for her 24/7. Although it was so hard to see her struggling and in such discomfort, she shared so many stories, songs, and answers to Wheel of Fortune - we were honored.
After struggling with a myriad of health issues over the last couple of years related to COPD and scoliosis, she received a hospice diagnosis and her health rapidly declined over the past two months. She was a strong advocate of utilizing the Death with Dignity option provided to terminally ill Oregonians. She had long-supported this personal choice of medically supported dying, as her life-long friend, Retha, who suffered from debilitating Multiple Sclerosis had bravely made that choice almost a decade ago.
Her choice of organizations to donate to reflects her commitment to living and dying with compassion and I couldn’t be more proud to share these (and of course she had me vet their Charity Navigator score first!):
End of Life Choices Oregon - https://eolcoregon.org/donate-2/
Street Roots - https://secure.qgiv.com/for/strroo
Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette - www.plannedparenthood.com
And last, but not least, the best way to honor this amazing woman is to share in one of her greatest accomplishments in life, becoming a published author at age 70. Social Security, A Novel For Our Time is “a lighthearted look at the serious subject of negotiating life from youth to senior citizen without most of that messy stuff in between.”
It can be found at Amazon: www.amazon.com/Social-Security-Novel
It is truly a novel for our time, and you may recognize yourself in there - I do. I promised her that I would make her famous posthumously (she said I just wanted to get rich!) and she also made me commit to writing a sequel. Stay tuned. There is no special service planned, but please share toasts and tell stories in her name - and know we are doing the same.
Lastly, forgive the length of this remembrance. It could never be long enough to express everything there is to say about our mom and the only person I would give this to for serious editing..is her.
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