Ted Smith

Date of Birth

June 5th, 1934

Date of Death

November 18th, 2020

Memorial Meeting

Grass Valley Friends Meeting


Edward Harlan Smith was born June 5, 1934, in Long Beach, the middle child of Irene Bettina Smith and Harlan Yager Smith, and died November 18, 2020, in Grass Valley, California.

Ted grew up with sisters Betty and Carolyn in Southern California; Berkeley/Oakland; Dayton/Yellow Springs, Ohio; and Minneapolis. Their father, Harlan, was an engineer, a colonel in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and a Shell Oil divisional manager whose work and military service entailed frequent moves. His sensitive and loving mother, Irene, made each new place feel like home for the family.

Ted studied at St. Olaf College and graduated from the University of Minnesota with an engineering degree. He married college sweetheart Sonya Albrightson in 1957, becoming a father to Sarah Elizabeth in September 1958 after the young couple relocated to Oakland for his job at Shell Oil.

Ted’s daughter likes to say with a smile that he went off to the 1960s and never really came back! The civil rights and social movements that were in full swing in the Bay Area had a profound impact on the trajectory of his life. The era’s values aligned with Ted’s interest in non-violence and social equity, and his lifelong search for God.

In 1968, the year of his divorce, he earned a master’s degree from Cal in sociology and went to work for five years with inner-city youth at the YMCA in Oakland, where he eventually became director. Articles in the Oakland Tribune show him leading new programs that introduced boys to camping, judo, fencing, and yoga, as well as working with high school students at the Model Legislature in Sacramento.

In the 1970s, he was briefly married to Molly Steele. He worked as an instructor at Laney College and Dominican College, and as a counselor at group homes for teens facing challenges. He also worked as a professional fundraiser for the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, led by his close friend, the iconic activist (and Ken Kesey-Merry Prankster associate) the Rev. Paul Sawyer.

During this era, Sarah had many adventures (“anthropological experiences,” her mother would say) with her father, such as a memorable trip to Disneyland with 40 Oakland YMCA kids playing cards for 15 hours on the bus; an off-road exploration in the Sierras featuring an unscheduled hike back to the highway after Ted’s 1964 Jaguar sedan became high-centered on a manzanita bush; a ski trip to Heavenly Valley that landed them in the South Tahoe emergency room with frostbite after the chairlift malfunctioned at 4 p.m. and stranded them for three hours high above the snow in the dark; interesting visits to his mother’s Berkeley best friend, Margo Wonder, with whom Ted lived for several years, and her year-round-blooming camellia garden; and most of all, happy vacations with his sister Betty Murphy’s large, vibrant family in Fullerton.

(His daughter was not invited along, however, when Ted and his friend Gary Ireland hopped trains up and down the West Coast, filming a quintessential 1970s male-bonding odyssey.)

When Ted moved to the Sierra foothills in the late 1970s, he had the good fortune to join the communal Grass Valley household of retired Methodist minister and Quaker activist George Burcham on La Barr Meadows Road. Ted adopted the social causes George had long championed and joined progressive groups George had founded in the area (while also learning a lot about gardening).

After assisting George with the chapter newsletter, Ted became active in the United Nations Association in 1985. He served as Golden Empire Chapter president for 20 years and was selected as U.N. Northern California division president in 1999. He became a fundraiser for John Woolman School and a volunteer for KVMR. He earned a certification in conflict resolution, provided elder care and operated a gardening business.

A Mayflower descendent and son of a genealogist, Ted came by his interest in history naturally (he recalled seeing Orville Wright “in his big coat” watching him and the other children play in the schoolyard across from Wright’s home in Dayton, Ohio), but he was equally interested in new ideas and spiritual growth. In Grass Valley, he had long standing commitments to everything from a Robert Bly-inflected men’s drum circle to the Course in Miracles study group he hosted for 35 years.

His other signal quality was his ability to connect with family and friends, from Country Joe’s father, “Mac” McDonald, in his Bay Area days, to his beloved late nephew Peter Murphy and all Peter’s siblings, to his circle of Grass Valley cross-country skiing and hiking friends, to those from the Grass Valley Friends Meeting and Sierra Center for Spiritual Living.

After becoming blind in 2012 due to corporeal arteritis, a type of vasculitis, Ted was deeply grateful to the many faithful friends who supported him with companionship and meals, enabling him to remain in his home until 2019. Shera Banbury (who sang with him and accompanied him to his array of activities), Catie Edwards (who brought dinner every Saturday night), Steve Frazier (who helped with tech issues when Ted became blind), Joe Spang (who shared a weekly Course in Miracles reading right up until Ted’s final days), Nancy Buey (his personal assistant who handled health and schedule matters), and so many others.

Ted was also thankful for the love from his sisters, Betty and Carolyn, his daughter, Sarah, and his nephew John Murphy, who gracefully shouldered responsibilities for his finances and medical needs. He is survived by his daughter, Sarah Smith, of Corvallis, Oregon; and his sisters Betty Murphy, of Fullerton; and Carolyn (John) Sanders of Carmel; as well as numerous nieces and nephews and their families.

“Thou art in me and I in thee, Lord.”

Remembrances in Ted’s memory may be made to Quaker Friends.