A painful last goodbye

Those close to Poolesville’s Sandra Smith remember her as a caring, energetic mother and volunteer

Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Richard Smith lights candles with his children, Charlie, 12, Crystal, 10, and Samantha, 16, in remembrance of his wife and their mother.

Messages of support dangled from the strings of 44 purple balloons that sailed into the sky to start a vigil for Sandra Smith on Sunday night.

More than 150 friends, family and neighbors went to Poolesville Elementary School to reflect on the life of Smith, who died after driving her car into Churchill Lake in Germantown on Aug. 13. They held candles as they talked and huddled in front of the school, with tears rolling down the faces of some.

Smith, 44, lived away from her three children for the past year after separating from her husband, Richard Smith. He consoled loved ones at the vigil.

‘‘It has been absolutely horrible for all of us,” Smith said. ‘‘The children have actually had a tough time with the events that happened this week. But they are very resilient and I see them making progress. I honestly believe we are going to be okay.”

Throughout the week Poolesville neighbors called the Smith family by phone to offer condolences. They also provided the family with food and flowers.

‘‘She baby-sat dozens of children out here over the years,” Smith said. ‘‘They used to come to our house all of the time.”

On Sunday family and friends remembered Sandra Smith as an energetic person who always had a smile on her face. She loved playing softball, going to the beach and visiting Sugarloaf Mountain.

Candles were arranged in a heart on the ground outside Poolesville Elementary and children lit the candles one-by-one. They sat underneath a banner inscribed with many touching messages, including ‘‘We will miss you.”

‘‘It shows how much she was really loved,” Gail Conner of Germantown said of her sister Sandra Smith. ‘‘I just wish she could have overcome what was bothering her.”

Friends said persistent alcohol problems troubled Smith.

Poolesville resident Sue Hansen was her friend for 27 years. In 1995, Smith drove from Poolesville to Damascus to take Hansen’s daughter to the hospital in a time of need.

Hansen was happy to see so many people attend the vigil at Poolesville Elementary School.

‘‘It was just to celebrate her life,” Hansen said. ‘‘The kids adored her, she worked here and she volunteered here. It gives the kids an opportunity to say goodbye and [say] that they will miss her.”

Police are still investigating Smith’s death. The autopsy officially determining the cause of death has not yet been released.