Remembering Dorothea Smith

It was with great sadness that I learned of Dorothea’s recent passing. But as her youngest daughter Tricia said, “It was the best possible death — she had no pain, no tubes, no aloneness, no indignities.”Anointed with rose and lavender oils, wrapped in silk and flower petals from her precious garden, and surrounded by her loving family, this indomitable matriarch finally surrendered her 94 years on earth on Aug. 14.I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to include Dorothea in my book — she is as much a Cardiff pioneer as those very earliest settlers, Hector Mackinnon and Frank Cullen, and like them, she has truly left her mark.Through all of Cardiff’s inevitable changes, the spirit of Dorothea will continue to live on, from her marvelous mid-century house — so outrageous in 1950, so desirable in 2012 — to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito that she co-founded many decades ago, to the school that she and Milt constructed with their own children in mind and which has continued to safely house generations of Cardiff kids.She may be out of sight, but Dorothea will never be out of mind – a sentiment I find perfectly summed up in a line written by the late British politician, Enoch Powell: “If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends.”

For her 90th birthday in December 2007, Dorothea Smith’s daughter Rosemary Smith KimBal presented her with a book entitled The First 90 Years. Containing unforgettably evocative photographs, together with the transcribed results of a hundred different conversations, the book was originally intended to reveal “Dorothea’s perspective on Dorothea’s life.” But it does so much more than that: in compiling the memories of one remarkable woman, her family has also charted the growth of Cardiff. Dorothea Smith was born in 1917 — well before the invention of penicillin or passenger planes and just two days after Woodrow Wilson declared war on Austria-Hungary. She has seen 17 U.S. Presidents come and go. When she moved to Cardiff at age 14, there were only 25 families in the village: nobody thought twice about having an ocean-view home. At age 19, she eloped with Milton Smith, her “first real kiss,” and put down roots that have deepened through the decades. Today, she lives in the house she designed herself — to the horror of those 1950s neighbors who found its style too futuristic and its windows too bare. When a call went out in 1949 for bids to build the new Cardiff Elementary School, Smith and her husband, owners of Smith Construction, naturally tendered a bid. Because his four children would be attending the school, Milt purposely underbid the job so that he could be sure the school would be well constructed and safe. The first gilded spade of dirt was turned at the ground breaking ceremony in February 1950 and by September the school was up and running. Smith has continued to be involved in the school. In 2010, she introduced a project called Edible Landscaping (since renamed Scrumptious Schoolyards) and provided 20 apple and tangerine trees for the students and their parents to plant. She not only wants kids to make the connection between what they eat and where it is grown, but also to understand that establishing roots is important. Long after the children have left Cardiff Elementary, the trees they planted will continue to flourish. (Photo Courtesy of the Smith family.)

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Filed Under: Legendary Locals of Encinitas

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