A group of residents gathered Thursday night at Garden Court on De la Vina, a senior housing facility, to bid farewell to Sandy Smith, the resident services director. Smith is retiring.
It was a tearful send-off, but it most certainly lacked the fanfare, acknowledgment and praise merited by her departure. Smith is, in short, a giant in her field.
She has been at Garden Court for nearly 10 years, nearly as long as Garden Court has been around. In that time she has managed to create a community in the very best sense of that term. She has fostered a place and context that brought residents together and gave depth and meaning to the word home.
Under her guidance, residents have been given the chance to shine, to give back and to participate in a meaningful way in the life of this city.
During the past nine-plus years, the low-income residents of Garden Court have raised and contributed more than $30,000 to local, national and international charities. They also have sponsored more than 20 families of five through the annual Salvation Army “Adopt a Family” program during the holidays.
In 2007, the residents of Garden Court and Smith were recognized as “Local Heroes” for their efforts on behalf of others. It is no accident that as Smith’s gaze looks out into the world and she asks, “What can I do?” those around her cast their gaze in the same direction.
Smith and I sat down for dinner recently at Tap, a somewhat undiscovered Thai place on upper De la Vina Street. There she recounted her love for the residents and for her co-workers, and her sense of satisfaction and appreciation for all she has been able to accomplish.
While her accomplishments are legend, Smith’s most important work came in her day-to-day interactions with residents. She is a tireless defender of the rights of seniors, and she fought hard for them in the face of formidable challenges.
Smith has taught me many lessons in the realm of seniors’ rights, including how easily those rights, freedoms and independence can be undermined, marginalized and ignored. Tyrants, I have learned, target the vulnerable and come in all shapes, sizes and masquerades.
It is in standing against the tyranny that Smith shines. Without anger, malice or contempt, she holds her ground. With a smile and deep kindness, she advocates on behalf of those whose voices others can’t seem to hear or choose to ignore. More than once I have witnessed Smith save a life by taking a bold and courageous stand.
To the best of my knowledge, there will be no city or county resolutions, no congressional certificate — but there should be. There should be fireworks and a parade. There should be plaques and proclamations. And there should be sadness for this tireless and unyielding advocate lost.
And the tyrants, they rejoice while all around them there is mourning and regret.
— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com for ideas, comments, discussion and criticism.