By Kevin Coughlin
Reno Smith, the face of Morris County’s NAACP for decades, was remembered this week as a tireless advocate for civil rights who also found time for many philanthropic causes.
Smith passed away peacefully on Feb. 9, according to her obituary. She was 90.
She will be memorialized this Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, at Morristown’s Union Baptist Church, at 89 Spring St. A visitation is scheduled for 9 am, followed by a 10 am funeral service. Burial will be at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown.
As the eighth president of the county’s NAACP chapter–a role she served for more than 20 years–Smith was “dedicated and committed to equal opportunity for all,” said Keith Bodden, a recent past president.
“A teacher … she inspired many of her students to join the NAACP and continued the good fight for the perfection of the U.S. Constitution for all Americans,” Bodden said.
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who cited Smith’s passing at Tuesday’s council meeting, has designated Saturday as Reno Smith Day, to honor “a pillar of our community, both as a resident and as a community leader.”
Noting her NAACP leadership and devotion to public education, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) told MorristownGreen.com he will remember Smith’s “tireless fight against discrimination, bias, and fundamental unfairness. I cherish our 40-year friendship. Reno will be missed.”
Smith’s commitment to civil rights was “unwavering,” said Helen Arnold, a Morristown resident who knew her for years.
“Reno was an icon of strength, dedication and love….for both the community and most especially for the Morris County NAACP,” said Viki Craig, co-founder of Art in the Atrium Inc., which showcases top African American artists.
“She was from the deep South, and brought with her a speech pattern and vocabulary that was unique yet familiar, and oh so real. She never put on airs. She was always Reno…and worked to make our community better for everyone,” Craig said. “Her style of speech and leadership was both loving, unique and unrelenting.”
Slideshow photos courtesy of Keith Bodden
AUXILIARY COP, EBONY BACHELORETTE
Reno O. Smith, daughter of the late Willie Smith and Madie Peacock Smith, was born on Jan. 9, 1927, in Raleigh, N.C., where she would graduate with a teaching degree from Shaw University. Moving to the New Jersey/New York area, she earned a cosmetology license and a master’s degree from Kean University.
Smith served the NAACP’s Morris County branch in many capacities, including treasurer, and was a Golden Life Member. She also started the chapter’s spring fashion show, highlighting creations by minority designers.
A public school teacher in Rockaway Township, Smith spent a portion of her 38-year-career working with neurologically impaired students.
She was a founding member of CHETS, (Community Helpers Emphasizing Teenage Support), which helped prepare 8th graders for high school.
Smith also volunteered in the cancer center at Morristown Memorial Hospital (now Morristown Medical Center), and was active in the Union Baptist Church, where she co-organized the 90th anniversary celebration in 2006.
An avid traveler, Smith was featured as an Ebony Bachelorette in the magazine’s May 1977 issue.
She even served as an auxiliary police officer in Morristown, said Mayor Dougherty.
He recounted sitting in Smith’s living room years ago, talking about Morristown and her life’s journey.
“You just knew you were with someone very special, and I will be forever grateful to have met Reno,” the Mayor said.
Smith is survived by her brother, James Edward Smith, and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews and close friends. She was predeceased her brother, Clyde Smith, and sisters Doris Smith Whitaker and Ora Lee S. McCullough.