SHIRLEY LEE SMITH
By Tara Leigh Rose
(Edited by The Precis)
Shirley Lee Smith, a trailblazer and mother of nine who transformed the role of U.S. Marine Corps families—an undertaking that improved combat readiness for those deployed—passed away in Vienna, VA on Friday, June 3, 2022. She was 91.
What is now known as the Family Readiness Program, operational in some form across all branches of the military, was just one of Shirley’s pioneering efforts. While stationed in Hawaii as a Marine Corps wife, she enacted measures to improve poor living conditions for many residents, resolved transportation issues for hundreds of schoolchildren, and vastly enhanced resources in the local community.
In her later years, she launched a sewing apprenticeship at a Catholic mission in Chimbote, Peru to help the impoverished population develop skills for employment. Once again, Shirley’s vision laid the foundation for future programs with her trademark traits of devout faith and compassion for those less fortunate.
Born on July 10, 1930, in Hoquiam, WA, to Grace and Claude Lee, Shirley Mae Lee was deeply influenced by the difficulties she and her parents endured during the Depression. Emboldened by skills she acquired in 4-H Club, she labored throughout her life to give back and work on behalf of others. Shirley was especially passionate about empowering women.
After graduating from Washington State University in 1952, she married Keith Alfred Smith, a future Marine Corps pilot. While stationed in Hawaii, Shirley enacted measures to enrich living conditions for many families, resolved transportation issues for hundreds of schoolchildren, and vastly enhanced resources in the local community.
The “forgotten warriors”
In 1981, when Keith became Commanding General for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in Cherry Point, NC, Shirley saw families struggling to function independently when the service member deployed. This affected soldiers’ readiness in combat and often necessitated their returning home to sort out the issues.
Shirley immediately began orchestrating training to address the problem by targeting military spouses, “the forgotten warriors,” in her mind. Embodying the philosophy to “take care of our own,” Shirley’s pioneering efforts in originating The Key Wives Network expanded to The Family Readiness Program.
In 1983, she testified before Congress regarding the organization and its role in supporting Marine families. The Family Readiness Program spread throughout the Marine Corps and is now operational in some form across all branches of the military.
Friends of Father Jack
In her 70’s, she launched a sewing apprenticeship in a Catholic mission, originally known as the Friends of Father Jack, in Chimbote, Peru, to aid the impoverished population. The Mission and Shirley’s work was invaluable in teaching women a new skill and equipping them to provide for their families. Once again, Shirley’s vision laid the foundation for future programs at the Mission, and her trademark traits of devout faith and compassion leave a legacy for her beloved family.
Predeceased by her husband, Lt Gen. Keith A. Smith USMC (Ret.), son, Capt. Vincent L. Smith, USMC, and sister, Margaret Ricarte, Shirley Lee Smith will be deeply missed by her eight surviving children: Kelly Smith, Timothy Smith, Holly Smith, Cynthia Smith, Lynn Derbyshire, Thad Gifford-Smith, Tadgh Smith, and Tara Rose; by sisters Barbara Boggs, Myrtle Jones, 17 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.
Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna, VA, at 11am on Monday, June 27, 2022. Interment will be held at 1:30 pm at Quantico National Cemetery, 18424 Joplin Rd., Triangle, VA, 22172. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Semper Fi Fund, 825 College Blvd, Suite 102, PMB 609, Oceanside, CA 92057, http://semperfifund.org, or to The Friends of Chimbote, www.friendsofchimbote.com.