A tribute to Stephanie Smither who recently passed away. I met her doing volunteer photography over the years with the Orange Show and the Houston Art Car Parade. Normally I would say “we have lost a great one.” While that is be true, it seems far more appropriate to celebrate what she gave us when she was here. I’d rather say –
We have all gained and learned from Stephanie Smither. A person both kind and generous. A lady who was an example of how to carry yourself with grace but not be afraid to get your hands dirty building art and helping people. She had mettle. I am thankful for all she gave to Houston. A supporter of the arts in Houston, she was also a person you wanted to hang out with at the Orange Show Gala. She is a person who will be remembered for the good things she did.
As a photographer behind the lens, I can not say I knew her that well. My loss. Unless the saying “judge a person by their actions” is true. If so, then all of Houston knew her well. She even connected with my kids through Smither’s Park when we volunteered to do some aerial photography of the Orange Show when the Smither Park wall was first being built! She liked Oranges and Drones before drones were cool? Duuuuude.
I don’t think I ever saw Stephanie when she wasn’t smiling and laughing. I was usually hiding behind a camera lens, which sometimes is a great way to view the world if you are an active volunteer and have a history with an organization.
From the Chronicle:
About 400 people jammed the Menil Collection Thursday night to celebrate with donor Stephanie Smither the opening of an exhibition (As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither) marking her gift of 50 important works of folk art to the museum.
Sunday morning, they were saddened by her death but also applauding her colorful life, lived passionately and well.
Smither, 75, died Saturday night at home in Houston, surrounded by her family. She had been in declining health since a double lung transplant two and a half years ago.Paige Johnson, one of Smither’s three children, said her mother told doctors in January they needed to keep her alive until June 9 for the opening of the show, “As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither.”
“It was her life’s dream to have her collection at the Menil, to have it recognized by such a beautiful and important museum,” Johnson said. (more)
Stephanie Kerr Smither 1941-2016
Stephanie Kerr Smither, “Nana” will be remembered for her beautiful smile, loving her family, the marriage to her childhood sweetheart, inventive cooking, and always being the last to leave the party! She surrounded herself friends and beautiful objects, was wildly adventurous, fun loving, gracious and a courageous lady. Nana will be remembered for her big hugs, which she gave generously. Nana passed away June 11, 2016 at home surrounded by family and wearing her favorite turquoise rings.
Stephanie was born in Jacksonville, Texas, to Frankie Zou Gaston and Stephen Austin (“S.A.”) Kerr, May 4, 1941. Raised in Huntsville, Texas where her parents founded Kerr’s Department Store; she spent her days helping to run the store with the daddy she loved. As a young girl she learned the piano, enjoyed baseball and fell in love with her childhood sweetheart – John Henderson Smither. Their favorite place to “park” was Pritchett Pasture, now Interstate 45, where she helped John feed his cattle. Her sister Zou said, “it is hard to remember her before John!” They married while students at the University of Texas at Austin. John was in law school while Stephanie taught at the Texas School for the Deaf. Upon graduation, they moved to Stuttgart, Germany with their two children where John served in the Army. These were fond memories traveling Europe, in their VW bug with kids in the back. They settled in Houston and raised three children. Stephanie was active in the Blue Bird Circle, The Houston Garden Club and Westminster United Methodist Church, though what she enjoyed most was staying at home supporting John and her children with their endeavors.
Stephanie, a “sophisticated hoarder” or (consummate collector), was always on the hunt for handmade and one-of-a-kind objects. She was known for her bright orange lipstick and big jewelry, without which she felt underdressed. She was also known for her creative tablescapes, beautiful penmanship, and famous Smither Salsa. With her East Texas accent, someone said, “Stephanie was the only person she knew who said ‘hush’ in four syllables”. At Christmas her house was filled with carved Santas, her tree covered in her handmade needlepoint angels and the smells of homemade fudge and peanut brittle on the stove. Nana stayed busy all year making the grandchildren’s Christmas stockings and their annual needlepoint ornaments.
She and John loved hosting dinner parties and she delighted in cooking scrumptious gourmet meals. They always ended the evening with Stephanie playing the piano barefoot while John and their beloved supper club of 50 years sang into the wee hours. Stephanie thought if people left her house before midnight it was a bad party!
Her favorite activities included cheering for her grandchildren at sporting events, being a “mean” liar’s dice player, taking her grandchildren to exotic places, playing Mah Jongg, and spending time with family and friends at Sunset Lake in Huntsville, Texas.
The family wishes to express their gratitude to her generous lung donor and his family, Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. Scott Scheinin, Dr. Osama Gaber, Dr. Thomas Kaleekal, Sydney Bridges and the staff for their heroic effort over the last 2 ½ years. She was able to fulfill her lifetime dream of overseeing the creation of Smither Park, gifting her art to The Menil Collection and completing a documentary about her years as a collector of Visionary Art. In addition, she was honored as one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2015 by Houston Woman Magazine and as the 2014 Texas Patron of the Year by Art League Houston.
We know Stephanie would also like to thank all the sweet supporters of Smither Park and the artists who were so dear to her. Thank you also to the staff at The Menil Collection who were so wonderful to work with on the current exhibition.
Stephanie felt blessed to spend her last two evenings at the celebration dinner and opening of her collection at The Menil. She was radiant and so touched by the public outpouring of support. Afterwards, family and friends returned to her home for her famous SmitherRitas. She had one last toast, retired to her room, and eased into her final slumber surrounded by family and friends with the joyous sounds of the party below.
She treasured her children and their spouses, John Kerr Smither, Ashley and Curt Langley, Paige and Todd Johnson, and her grandchildren who affectionately called her Nana: Amon Smither; Austin, Madison and Jack Langley; Wells, John David, Pierce, Hill and Blake Johnson; her sister and brother-in-law Zou Kerr and Boyd F. Cherry; sisters-in-law, Martha Smither and Trudie Smither, nieces and nephews, Robert Smither, III, Sallie Crotty, John J. Smither and Mary Kate Jefferies; great grand nieces and nephews Kate and Stephen Crotty and Cole Smither. She was preceded in death by her parents S.A. and Frankie Zou Kerr, her husband John H. Smither and two brothers-in-law Robert B. Smither, Jr. and Wilbur L. Smither, III.
The memorial service celebrating her life is Thursday, June 16th at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Rd, Houston, Texas. The graveside service will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Oakwood Cemetery located at 9th Street and Martin Luther King Drive in Huntsville, Texas. It was Stephanie’s wish that everyone celebrate her life by wearing a bit of her favorite color, orange.
For those desiring, contributions in Stephanie’s memory may be made to: Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation, P. O. Box 4384, Houston, TX 77210-4384 (in honor of Dr. Scott Scheinin for transplant research; Nora’s Home for transplant patients and their families, 8300 El Rio St., Houston 77054 http://www.norashome.org, Smither Park, 2402 Munger, Houston, Texas 77004 http://orangeshow.org
Published in Houston Chronicle from June 15 to June 16, 2016
Here is to the power of the Orange Show, the people and the place, to bring people together. Thanks y’all. I’ll be back out there when I get a camera again.
My Final Thoughts – like so many other great people in Houston, I wish I had gotten the chance to truly know her beyond photography. Running into Stephanie, whatever the event from the Art Car Parade, to the Art Car Ball, to an Orange Show event or at an event commemorating her donations to create Smithers’ Park next to the Orange Show Monument. Smiling.
She was consistent – she was generous of her time and money, she was true to her word, and by God she loved the color Orange! And the color Orange not only looked great on Stephanie, I am quite sure it loved her back.
I predict Orange will be very big this fall.