EAST HARWICH — Sheila Smith, the longtime advertising sales manager at The Cape Cod Chronicle, is being remembered for her caring nature, her skill as a businesswoman, her fondness for animals, and above all her devotion to family.
Mrs. Smith died Monday at the age of 83, less than two months after the passing of her husband, Preston.
Born Sheila Whiddon, Mrs. Smith moved to Orleans at a young age and attended Orleans High School, where she was a star player on the baseball and basketball teams. She earned a basketball scholarship to Springfield College, where she became part of only the second class of women to attend. Letti Sullivan of Chatham was a year ahead of her at Springfield.
“There weren’t many women there, but there were a lot of guys,” Sullivan said with a laugh. “She was an excellent athlete. She was also a cheerleader.” But her friend already had her eye on a young man with ties to Chatham, an aspiring dentist who was attending classes at the University of Pennsylvania.
“We used to do dorm checks on Monday, and I lied and said Sheila was there,” when she was actually visiting Preston in Pennsylvania, Sullivan quipped.
After marrying, the couple lived in Philadelphia, North Carolina and Maine before returning to the Cape to raise three children. A devoted mother and skilled homemaker, Mrs. Smith also worked as the manager of the Gloria Stevens Figure Salon in Orleans before taking a position on the sales staff of the former Orleans Oracle newspaper. She joined The Chronicle in 1982 as a sales representative and later became the department manager.
Mrs. Smith was active in the Chatham Merchants Association, helping to organize many special events that supported the business community. She put her considerable crafting skills to use creating dozens and dozens of straw hats used to decorate downtown Chatham during the annual Spring Fling event.
Ginny Nickerson of Chatham, whose mother started the Children’s Shop, remembers when Mrs. Smith was hired as a sales clerk. Later in life, they’d both be board members of the Merchants Association.
“We just adored her,” Nickerson said. “It was just delightful to be a team member with her.” Like Nickerson, Mrs. Smith was part of a growing community of business leaders in Chatham at the time.
Mrs. Smith was also a natural hostess, making guests feel at ease at parties and wowing them with her decorating skills.
“Sheila could entertain. She was the most magnificent cook I had ever met,” Sullivan said.
Mrs. Smith became lifelong friends with her boss, Chronicle Publisher Hank Hyora, and other employees of the newspaper.
“She looked after The Chronicle like a mother hen,” Nickerson said. “And Hank was so dear to her.”
“She helped shape The Chronicle, and she believed in the importance of small businesses supporting one another,” Hyora said. “She also believed that hometown newspapers offer something special to the communities they serve, and she liked being part of that. Sheila was one of my closest, dearest friends,” he said. “We all feel a great emptiness.”
Mrs. Smith was working at The Chronicle at the time of a great family tragedy: the death of her 35-year-old daughter, Martha, to cancer. The loss was unspeakably difficult, but it never defined her.
“I guess I didn’t let it subdue me or become an excuse for being miserable,” Mrs. Smith said in a 2015 interview. “But it’s a terrible thing, an awful thing.”
Facing increasing health problems, but never complaining about them, Mrs. Smith retired as a full-time employee in the late 1990s. Until recently, she worked one day a week at the Chronicle’s front desk, answering questions and chatting with old friends – both subscribers and staff members. Through that time, she remained keenly curious and had strong opinions about current events. She also had a great knowledge of her community and the people who live here.
In recent months, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were tenderly cared for by daughters Meredith and Stephanie, and spent time with grandchildren and other beloved family members.
“The girls have been fantastic to their parents,” Sullivan said.
Mrs. Smith was a lifelong animal lover, and at her home in North Chatham, and later in East Harwich, she enjoyed watching the wildlife at all times of the year. She usually had pets, often rescue animals, and had a particular fondness for The Chronicle’s office cats.
While a memorial service will be private, Mrs. Smith leaves a wide circle of friends.
“I looked up to her like an older sister,” Nickerson said. “This is a huge loss to our town and our community.”