Erlene Smith, 87: Worked closely with President and Mrs. Carter

Erlene Smith’s inquisitive and intelligent mind served her well when she and her husband joined President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter at the White House.

P.R. “Bobby” Smith and Erlene Smith were in the cotton business, said their daughter Victoria Smith, and Carter, of course, was in the peanut business. Bobby and Carter knew each other well before Carter became president and nominated Bobby as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in 1978.

The Smiths moved to Washington, and Victoria says her mother worked closely with the first lady. “One big contribution she had was she did scrapbooks for the (Carter) family, so she was privy to tons of pictures and information,” said Victoria Smith.

Erlene Smith, 87, of Winder, died June 7 of complications from a lung condition she had battled for several years. A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. June 26 at First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in Winder. She will be buried next to her husband in the family cemetery. Smith Memory Chapel is in charge of the arrangements.

After they left Washington, Smith and her husband went to Thailand for three months, teaching people about agriculture. “Then they came back, and they went to El Salvador and lived there during some pretty scary times – a lot of unrest in the country,” Victoria Smith said. “It was part of her desire to give back and use her talents.” Smith and her husband traveled all over the country and the world: To places even their daughter, who worked for Delta Air Lines, hadn’t been.

Erlene Smith and Bobby Smith always came back to Winder though, and to the friends they had known for years.

She “was so easy to be a friend to. She was dependable,” said Betty Ann Russell, who had been friends with Smith since the early 1950s. “She was just a sweet and thoughtful person.”

Russell said Smith was good at bridge, which the friends played often. Smith insisted she wasn’t good at the game, but she was smart, and Russell said she had a knack for remembering all the right rules.

Picking up new interests and talents was easy for Smith. After her husband died, Smith learned to play hand bells. “That was just part of her inquisitiveness and continually learning new things and pushing herself,” said Victoria Smith.

In addition to her daughter Victoria Smith, of Atlanta, Erlene Smith is survived by sons P.R. “Phil” Smith of Winder and Timothy Smith of Dacula, daughter Janet Smith Costello of Atlanta, and two grandchildren.