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Charlotte M. Smith

September 10, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Charlotte Miller (Smith) poses for this undated photo.
Submitted Photo

 Charlotte Miller was born in Clarksburg, W.Va., in 1928. Her only memory of West Virginia is the long white truck that carried the family's possessions to Hagerstown when she was 2 years old.

She spent the rest of her life in Hagerstown, where she raised her four children and got deeply involved in the community. Her daughters said she was still friends with some of her first-grade classmates.

A 1946 graduate of Hagerstown High School, Charlotte then graduated in the inaugural class of 1948 from what was then Hagerstown Junior College, and is now Hagerstown Community College.

Thanks to alphabetical order, she was the first of three females in her class to receive her diploma, allowing Charlotte to claim the distinction of being the first woman to graduate from HJC.

Betty Hays of Hagerstown, Charlotte's oldest child, said her mother always supported the Hagerstown Community College Alumni Association.

Also in 1948, she married William Hamilton Smith III. She was introduced to her future husband through one of her girlfriends while in high school. The couple started dating when Charlotte was an HJC student. They divorced about 25 years later.

Charlotte had six grandchildren and two who are deceased, with the first great-grandchild due in November.

"She spoiled 'em rotten," Patty said. "They could hardly do anything wrong."

Son William "Bill" Hamilton Smith IV, Charlotte's second child, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.  

His sisters said Bill was a joiner like their mother and volunteered in the community as long as he could. He died in 1992.

After a break in her education, Charlotte returned to college and graduated from Shepherd College, now Shepherd University, in 1963, then taught English at South Hagerstown High School for 27 years, retiring in 1990. Her favorite subject was math, but she didn't have the patience to teach it, said Becki Burtner of Keedysville, Charlotte's youngest child.

She earned her master's degree in education from Shippensburg College in 1965.

The Miller children went to North Hagerstown High School, but Charlotte cheered for South High since she taught there. She loved to watch the games and hear the marching bands.

When the family moved into South High territory for Becki Burtner's last two years of high school, Becki received special permission to finish at North because she didn't want to go to the school where her mother taught.

"She had the reputation for being a hard teacher, but a good teacher," Becki said.

Many of Charlotte's students came to her viewing, including one who said she flunked him, Betty said.

Charlotte often worked multiple jobs to support her family. At one point, she was a newspaper proofreader and would arrive early to proofread The Daily Mail, the afternoon paper, spend the day teaching at South High, head home for a "power nap," then head back to proofread The Morning Herald, the early edition.

"I don't know how she had time for all she did," Becki said. "She worked two jobs to support the four of us — but she lived to play bridge."

Card games were a favorite pastime, and the girls remember the cutthroat games of Hearts the adults played after Sunday family dinners. Charlotte even had a magnetic board so she could play cards poolside while her children swam at the Woodcrest Pool.

Baking was a favorite hobby, and Charlotte's cookies and pies were well-known.

"Her apple pies were to die for," Betty said. "The pie crust would melt in your mouth."

"Everybody loved her fudge," said middle daughter Patty Castellanos of Hagerstown, who added that her mother could cook for an army.

Charlotte's holiday tradition of making homemade eggnog once took a comical twist when her sons-in-law, not realizing the unmarked container of white liquid in the refrigerator was leftover eggnog, used it to make mashed potatoes.

The Miller home was a gathering place for the children's friends.

"Everyone called her 'Mom,'" Becki said.

"She was a mother and grandmother to a lot of people," Patty said.

"We learned about our mom after she died. She helped a lot of people, but was not one to boast," Becki said.  

Charlotte always had dogs and cats, supported her Avon lady and was a frequent shopper from the Blair catalog, Betty said.

She was a creative person, with needlepoint, ceramics and sewing as hobbies. As a cost-saving measure, she made most of her children's clothing.

"She found it relaxing," Patty said of her mother's sewing.

"I remember a wonderful navy pinstripe suit she made me," Betty said.

Charlotte also made four bridesmaid dresses in two nights, except for the hems, for Patty's wedding — all while teaching at South High and working at J.C. Penney. Charlotte also made Patty's wedding dress, with instruction from the sewing teacher at South High, combining different patterns for the top and bottom.

She volunteered at her church, Trinity Lutheran in Hagerstown, and also worshiped at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which Patty and her husband, Fidel, attended. Charlotte was active in numerous service and political organizations, and volunteered with the Washington County Hospital Auxiliary.

"Everywhere we went, somebody knew her," Patty said.  

Charlotte enjoyed travel and over the years, drove to Texas by herself and made several car trips with her son to California to visit Patty when she lived there. She went to Europe with friends and on bus trips to New York and Lancaster, Pa.

"She was very faithful and very patriotic," Patty said. "She loved to go to The Maryland Theatre and Antietam (National Battlefield) to hear the (Maryland Symphony Orchestra)."

In December 2008, as her health was starting to deteriorate, Charlotte moved to Loyalton of Hagerstown's assisted-living facility. She had been at Williamsport Nursing Home since mid-June. Diabetes, heart issues, Parkinson's disease and then renal failure finally took their toll.

"She could hardly hold cards, but still had to play," Betty said.

This summer, games of rummy and putting together puzzles with family members filled the time.

"She'd been sick for years, but never complained," Becki said.

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Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Charlotte M. Smith, who died Aug. 29 at the age of 82. Her obituary was published in the Aug. 31 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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