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It is with great heartache and regret that we announce the passing of Emily Anne Smith, 78, of Upper Darby, PA who died peacefully on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Robert M. Smith Sr. and Anne Thompson Smith, her brother, Robert M. Smith Jr., her nephew Timothy O. Smith and her niece, Katherine C. Smith. She is survived by her brother, Philip M. Smith, her niece, Rebecca A. Smith, and her nephews Patrick M. Smith and Jeremy T. Smith. Up until her death, Emily had been sharing her home with her loyal friend of over 38 years, Rita Oakes.
Emily was born in Pittsburgh, Pa on December 15, 1944. As a child, her family moved around Pennsylvania, from Pittsburgh to East Texas near Allentown, back to Pittsburgh, before finally settling in Butler. Emily was an incredibly intelligent and precocious youth who exhibited astonishing mettle while being faced with childhood illness, contracting polio at the age of 4, and hardscrabble circumstances growing up. Emily had a true passion for animals, routinely taking in and caring for strays throughout her life, with an early goal of becoming a veterinarian. Academically, Emily developed a keen interest in technology, training in computer programming in the 1960s. Emily graduated from Butler High School and attended Clarion University before embarking on a long and accomplished professional life.
At the age of 21 in 1969, Emily began working for The Bell Telephone Company in marketing at Bell of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and after the breakup of The Bell System in 1984, as Manager, Corporate Communications at Bell Atlantic Corporation Headquarters in Philadelphia. She worked closely with the Vice President of Corporate Communications, Donald Van Lenten, and for the Chairmen, Presidents, Officers and Board of Directors. She retired on her birthday, December 15, 1991. As Donald Van Lenten wrote on her retirement: “She staged Annual Meetings, Chairman’s Conferences and Corporate Gatherings. She earned a reputation for professionalism, true grit, a no-nonsense ‘let’s get the damn job done’ attitude and the ability to pull more rabbits out of a hat than Harry Houdini ever plucked from his.”
Only 47 years old at the time of her retirement, with a reputation including the dinner on Independence Square for We the People 200: The Gala Bicentennial Celebration of the 1787 signing of The U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, she embarked on a freelance path as a highly regarded professional organizer. In 1991 and many years after, working for a local charitable organization, The Friends of Rittenhouse Square, she helped increase its membership, produce its Newsletter, and working with the President, organized and ran its biggest fundraiser, The Annual Ball on the Square.
Also, from 1994 to 2014 she worked year-round on planning and running the three-day, highly complex Annual Renfrew Center Foundation Eating Disorders Conference at The Philadelphia Marriott for Professionals from around the world. During the last Conference, walking and standing for any length of time became excruciating. After a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome and finally retired to her beloved house in Upper Darby.
Emily was an industrious, intellectual, and accomplished individual with a magnetic personality. She possessed a gift for storytelling, a razor-sharp wit and an endearing and infectious laugh. Her charisma attracted people from all stations and walks of life and effectively fostered many deep, lifelong friendships. She was a devoted daughter, generous sister and doting aunt. Emily had a passion and talent for board games and card playing, exhibiting a true dominance in Scrabble, Canasta, and Pinochle. Right up until her passing, she would lose herself in challenging and complex computer games, especially Cubis Gold 2, to test her quick, strategic mind. Emily was a diehard fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, having been a season ticket holder through the Steel Curtain era, and enjoyed relaying tales of rubbing shoulders with Franco Harris after the Immaculate Reception game.
She lived up until the very end at her home with the aid of her devoted friend and longtime business associate, Rita Oakes, who shared in the loss last year of her beloved final feline companion, Cate. Emily’s tastefully appointed home was refuge to many animals through the years, including her dogs Fannie and Allie and her cats Spice and Pumpkin. By virtue of many challenges in her life, Emily was compelled to adopt a sense of grit and determination, but also maintained a humility and grounded perspective throughout her many successes. She was a championship tennis player in high school whom people came to watch serve aces with her one good arm, and she won sidestroke swimming medals. She was a top-performing salesperson for the telephone company who rose through the ranks to become a facilitator for the top executives of what evolved into The Bell Atlantic Corporation.
Emily was a self-made woman, with a litany of achievements in her professional career and countless obstacles that she overcame. But the best indicator of her merit was the many vibrant friendships she maintained through her life and the love and consideration she showed to her family. She was an intelligent, thoughtful, and charismatic human being. Emily was a true original and will be sincerely missed by all those who were lucky enough to know her.
She said of the polio she contracted as a child, “I do believe the whole experience was critical in the formation of the person I became and remain to this day. I have never used my disability as an excuse for why I could not do something, but rather as the motivation to be the ‘best’ at anything I chose to tackle.”
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