To Alice Aileen Smith, citizen

Alice Aileen Smith died on June 12. She was 89. That’s a pretty long life as it goes, and Alice was a person who participated in life. I’m really sad that I only now learned of her death. The last time we talked was just after Linda and I ran upon her as her car stalled out in front of her house on Ecoff Ave. in Chester. We helped a couple of other folks push her car into her driveway. I was amazed that she was still driving, at one time she had cataracts in both eyes, but on that sunny day last year her eyes looked as clear and blue as ever.  

You’re wondering why I would be writing about Alice Smith. For one, I feel guilty for not staying in touch with her. She was such a sweet woman, she attended many community meetings a number of years ago, but as she got older her connection was broken, she was no longer able to participate. And she was a real citizen. She practiced the citizenship she learned in school, she listened and only offered input when it was necessary. She was an activist, she stepped forward to help in the effort to save the old Chester Post Office.

I remember a meeting with Congressman Eric Cantor. Alice came along, area residents filled his conference room and while he was then representing the southern part of Chesterfield, he barely listened. Was he concentrating on his climb up the ladder to majority leader? He wasn’t interested, as Alice was, in saving the post office. It was a noble cause but things change and I think Alice accepted change, but she wanted things done right. Alice’s picture appears on page 3 of the paper on October 28, 1999 as part a story on the old post office.

“Full participation in government and society has been a basic right of the country symbolizing the full citizenship and equal protection of all.” – Charles Rangel
Alice knew about citizenship, she knew she had to speak up, she knew there was something that she could do to change things just a little bit; she knew how to be involved, be a part of the community, and unlike so many others she knew that if she didn’t stand up with others who thought the same as she did, we would all be lost.

We got a letter from Deborah D. Wildsmith, Alice’s daughter. She said she had to write because her mother had loved the Village News. There were times when Alice would get her picture or a mention of her in the Village News. She said her mom would pick up several copies every week and distribute them to her family and friends. Deborah wrote that Alice “was one of the biggest fans the Village News ever had.” That made me happy, and I guess this is sappy, but it makes me miss Alice even more.

In a note so graciously written by Deborah she thanked us “for giving Alice local news, a forum for her community activism as well as just sheer reading pleasure.” That’s a huge compliment for a small publication such as we are.

Deborah lives in Sidney, Australia, and I have had contact with her through email about life in Australia, a country where citizenship is taken seriously. Deborah sent a photo of herself holding the Village News in front of the Sidney Opera House. She said her mom “was so proud and picked up 10 copies of the paper that week.”

I know, this all sounds like self-congratulatory and self-serving bluster. But this is really not about us, it’s more about a sweet lady who believed in us and felt a connection to the community through the newspaper. That has always been our mission and sometimes I think it deserves repeating.  Your community, your neighbors, your news, has been our motto going on 14 years. Although we can’t survive without our devoted advertisers, we can’t help but put our community first. We think that everyone is important.

Everyone has important things that happen in their lives. Everyone needs a little recognition in this life that can be full of struggles and at times thankless.

I’m writing this on Monday, the day before the paper hits the streets. Tonight, I will be a guest of Tavern Talk, a conversation among folks that, at least, organizer Michelle Collins - Robinson finds interesting. This particular evening was to be a panel discussion with Greg Pearson of the Observer, Tom Silvestri, president and publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and myself as editor of this paper. I’m told that when Pearson was told he had to share the stage, he backed out. What a missed opportunity. The conversation will now be a little bit limited, but I hope it will be an examination of the symbiotic relationship between a regional daily newspaper and a hyper-local weekly.

I think Alice would have liked to attend. Thank you Alice for your community participation and the support you gave us. Rest in peace.

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