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Remembering Jean Smith, 92, of El Cerrito

A descendant of the family that founded the Mormon Church, Jean Smith was devoted to service in her congregation and remained vigorous until the day she died at 92, struck by a bicyclist Wednesday on Arlington Boulevard.

Jean Smith of El Cerrito may have been small in physical stature, but the imprint she left in the minds and hearts of others during her 92 years provides a striking contrast.

Smith remained remarkably vigorous until this past Wednesday when her life came to a sudden, tragic end. She was as she was crossing Arlington Boulevard near Arlington Park on her daily hike.

In an interview Saturday, her daughter Cindy Scott and Cindy's husband Bill spoke of some of the special qualities that distinguished the mother's life.

They also issued an appeal for measures to address the dangers of the intersection of Arlington and Brewster Drive, where Smith was fatally hit.

A descendant of Hyrum Smith, brother to Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, Smith was devoted to service in her church community, Cindy said.

"Perhaps her most memorable calling was as president of the relief society that provides temporal care for women and children of the congregation," she said. Even after Smith's formal term of service ended, she continued to actively help others in the church.

"She felt a service call to these people," Cindy said. Smith was a member of the Hilltop Ward in Richmond, a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as LDS or the Mormon Church.

Bill Scott added, "She was always giving rides to 'little old ladies,' even when they were 10 years younger than her." She remained a competent driver and continued driving until her death, he said.

Her husband, Calvin Smith Jr., died in 1991, and she remained in the home the couple built in 1950 on nearby Betty Lane, Cindy said. She continued to live there alone until the end.

"She did all her own gardening and all her own housekeeping," Cindy said.

She was active in other ways too. "She was always doing things," Bill said.

Family photos show her rappelling down a hillside at Donner Lake in her late 80s and kayaking on San Francisco Bay last fall.

"We took her to Hawaii last fall," Cindy said, and Bill added that Smith's son, Calvin Smith III, "took her with his family canoeing down the Snake River three to four years ago."

Bill said that on the afternoon before the tragic accident, he was at her home trying to lift a lawnmower that the two homes shared onto a truck but couldn't do it alone because of five broken ribs he suffered in a recent fall. "I couldn't lift, but boy could she help," he said. Cindy and Bill live in El Cerrito near to her mother's home.

She was taking her regular one-mile walk with hiking poles when she was fatally struck, Bill said.

Smith was the mother of five, grandmother of 20 and great-grandmother of 28, soon to be 29 this coming week, Cindy said. A number of family members from other parts of the country are gathering this week in El Cerrito.

A memorial service is planned for Friday, June 15, at 10 a.m. at the Hilltop Ward congregation, at 4351 Hilltop Dr., just east of Interstate 80. Community members who would like to attend are welcome. Burial will be with her husband at Sunset View Cemetery.

Smith was born in Logan, Utah, the middle daughter of three girls. Her father worked as a telephone company lineman, a job that meant moving from time to time. Smith grew up in Logan, El Paso and Denver, Cindy said. One of Smith's grandfathers, Charles Ora Card, led a Mormon migration to Canada and founded the community in Cardston, Alberta, a town that is named after him.

Smith graduated from Utah State University, where she majored in English.

She and her husband married during World War II, when he was serving in the Navy, and after the war they moved to the Bay Area where he had been given a job at Chevron in Richmond. They lived four years in worker housing built for the Kaiser shipyards before moving to their home in El Cerrito.

Smith taught 28 years for the Oakland school system, teaching English to Chinese immigrants at the Chinese Community Center, Cindy said.

She also was a member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and enjoyed playing a piano, a pastime she took up in her later years.

Plea to improve safety at Arlington and Brewster

Bill and Cindy Scott preferred not to discuss the accident and bicyclist, Douglas Herring of El Cerrito, who has . But they did appeal for action on addressing the traffic danger at the intersection where the accident occurred.

"I feel fairly strongly that something should be done about the safety of that corner," Bill said.

Smith was crossing Arlington where it intersects with the southern end of Brewster Drive, which dead-ends there on Arlington. Arlington curves and dips at that point, so that traffic approaching the intersection from both directions on Arlington is going downhill, approaching an intersection where it's difficult to see past the curve.

The bicyclist who hit Smith had been coming downhill heading northbound on Arlington.

"This is the second death we know of at the corner," Bill said. A neighborhood boy was killed there about 20 years ago, and there have been many non-fatal accidents, he said.

He noted that Denise Sangster, moderator for the Arlington Neighbors email list, and her dog were hit there, with dog being seriously hurt.

Sangster said she and her dog were hit in the nearby crosswalk in October 2003, and that she suffered a knee injury while her dog was badly hurt and now has metal bars in his front legs.

The crosswalk is not at the intersection but about 40 feet south, serving a footpath that leads downhill from Arlington.

Bill Scott said most people don't use the crosswalk because of poor visibility.

"The main safe place to cross (Arlington) is right at the corner (with Brewster) because that's the only place you can see both ways on the road."

Bill Scott said he would like to see the city's public works department and perhaps an appropriate citizens commission assess potential solutions, such as relocating the crosswalk, installing speed bumps to slow traffic to 15 miles per hour, clearing view-obstructing weeds on the east side of Arlington and more signage.

"Something needs to happen," Bill Scott said. "I think people around the neighborhood feel that way."

Sangster added, "There have been other pedestrians who have been bumped by autos and bikes, and, frankly, it is a miracle that no child has been killed crossing the street to the park given the high speed of traffic and heavy auto congestion on the weekends. At least monthly there is a fender bender at or near the corner."

The intersection is at the southern tip of popular Arlington Park.

Sangster said a number of neighbors want to have a neighborhood meeting to address the issue and that she hopes to have one possibly next month. 

Helen Alderson June 10, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Arlington has several treacherous spots due to the hilly nature of the road. Despite the double solid yellow lines and posted speed limit, people speed and pass, especially if the car in front is going too slow (you know, the speed limit). With the Arlington Park and Madera Elementary, children can also be in this vulnerable position of crossing this "major thoroughfare." It is treated like a highway; a place to avoid the stop signs and traffic lights that exist on San Pablo Ave. In my 25 yrs as an El Cerrito resident, I have seen no more than 3-5 traffic stops by the ECPD on that street and I've never seen a bicyclist receiving a ticket in El Cerrito.
Bonnie M Reeves June 10, 2012 at 02:56 PM
This is just a tragic story of a life lost much too early. Such a vital woman! Such a lovely soul. Our neighborhood has lost a lovely lady who contributed so much to the fabric of the Arlington neighborhood.
Toni Mayer June 10, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Mrs. Smith sounds like a vital, gracious lady who lived a long, good life that ended much too soon. What a sad loss for all who knew her. I'm so sorry.
L.A. Chung (Editor) June 10, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Mrs. Smith came from a generation that did so much to contribute to their communities. It's clear she will be missed. The photos of Mrs. Smith kayaking on San Francisco Bay and coming down the rock at Donner Lake (not rappelling, but still very impressive) show how much life she had inside her. My condolences to her family.
Belle Canto June 11, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Near the Kensington library on the Arlington is a blinking yellow light, and a crosswalk and pedestrians can - with the push a button - trigger a change from yellow to a red light. Perhaps this would be a good solution for the (south) Brewster corner. (Not sure this would have stopped this (particular) cyclist or prevented this particular accident, but would be step toward increased safety at this intersection for those who cross there - and many of us do.)
Barbara Cortese June 11, 2012 at 06:24 AM
I can't believe anyone thinks there are few traffic stops on the Arlington. The police often lurk by the golf course to catch people who have speeded up going downhill there. I know lots of people who have gotten tickets on the Arlington.
FalconJournal June 11, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Keep the memories of Jean Smith alive on Remember.com. Anyone with memories can contribute. Build her story to be preserved.

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