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Victoria Smith's only son says 'Mom raised me not to be afrai

February 12, 2006|By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Even though Chad Smith surely is mourning the loss of his mother, he said the life lessons she taught him and the love she lavished on him will keep her alive in his heart for all time.

"Mom was fearless, maintained a strong faith and kept a smile on her face ... no matter what," Chad said. "I was very proud of her."

His mother, Victoria Smith, died Feb. 3 at the age of 55 after a long battle with both multiple sclerosis and peripheral neuropathy - ailments that weakened her body, but never defeated her spirit.

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Even when she was a patient at the Western Maryland Hospital Center from time to time, Victoria rarely stayed idle.

"When I would visit her, she would never be in her room - she'd be in her wheelchair down the hall in someone else's room trying to help them," Chad said.

Chad said his mother often would go out in her wheelchair to her maternal grandmother's home to take care of her until her death three years ago.

"Mom had her days, but she never showed any negativity about it," Chad said.

Growing up in Hagerstown, Chad lived with his mother until he was 19.

"We moved around a lot when I was young," he said. "We were very close."

As a young boy, he remembers playing a lot of board games and working jigsaw puzzles with his mother, all the while talking to each other about school or anything else for that matter.

"In grade school, I had some problems with bullies," Chad said. "Mom taught me how to throw a punch, but only as a last resort."

Now 31, Chad said he has a lot of confidence in himself and he knows he got that from his mother.

"She raised me not to be afraid - of new situations, new people ... I thank her for that," he said.

For the past three years, Chad has been working as a personal trainer at Gold's Gym. Physical fitness and activity always have been important to him, and he's glad he was able to parlay that into a career.

"I was always into sports," Chad said. "And mom and I took a lot of trips like to Cunningham Falls - she liked being outdoors."

Born in Washington, D.C., Victoria lived most of her life in the Hagerstown area. When she was in her early 20s, she joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the medical corps during the Vietnam era.

"She went in after her brother, Jonathan, joined the U.S. Army," Chad said. "They were very close and she wanted to be like him."

Chad said even though his mother was stateside during the Vietnam War, she earned a number of medals during her service in the early 1970s.

"She used to let me wear her Navy pea coat with all her medals on it," he said.

Victoria's mother, Cynthia Shepard, said her daughter spent much of her duty in the Navy at Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital, so she was able to come home on the weekends.

"Even when she was home, she was always helping people," Cynthia said. One time there was a man down on a street in Hagerstown, and Victoria gave him CPR and stayed with him until an ambulance came.

Trying to deal with the death of her second daughter, Cynthia said there is nothing harder in life.

"It's not supposed to be this way - I'm not supposed to bury my children," she said.

Victoria's sister, Carla, died as a result of an automobile accident more than 10 years ago, Cynthia said.

Back in Washington County after her Navy service, Victoria went to work at the Western Maryland Hospital Center, her mother said. She later was treated there for her own health problems.

Victoria also worked for the Department of Social Services, where Executive Director Dave Engle said she distinguished herself as an in-home aide.

Chad said his mother's illnesses came on slowly, beginning with muscle weaknesses when he still was in high school. But the key was she never let it get her down, even when she no longer could drive a car or hold down a job.

"She had a full life and lived it on her own terms," Chad said. "I learned from her never to be afraid to be who you are."

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