Some people just have a knack for caring for others, for loving people unconditionally and welcoming them into their hearts and homes. Jane Powell Smith had such a gift that she shared with others. In the way she cared for her family, raised funds for the community, and fulfilled her important role as a devoted military wife, there was always much love given and received.
Always a Lady
In a beautiful and fitting tribute to his beloved wife of 43 years, delivered at the prestigious Old Cadet Chapel at West Point Cemetery, Donald Smith, Putnam County Sheriff and U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.) explained the many graces that made Jane so very special. Graces that ultimately led Don’s Mother to bestow her with a title of fitting admiration, “Lady Jane.” Jane was, as Don recollected, “a wonderful, loving wife, and incredible mother, a terrific grandmother, loving daughter and granddaughter, a sister extraordinaire and an aunt, niece, and cousin whom everyone not only loved, but respected, and wanted to be around as often as they could.”
A Loving Start
Jane was born January 15, 1951 to very loving parents, William Powell and Eleanor Powell. According to Don, Jane’s mother was her greatest role model. She too bore a title of respect and honor – that of “Saint Eleanor.” As a girl Jane loved to spend time with family at Pleasant Lake in Elkins, New Hampshire where her love for crafting and cooking grew through the nurturing of her maternal grandmother, Ruth Holcomb.
Preparing for Flight
William Powell was a teacher and a coach at private schools. As such, his children were provided with a strong educational foundation at Saint Bernard’s in Gladstone, NJ; St. Paul’s School in Garden City, NY; and Trinity Pawling School in Pawling, NY. Following high school, Jane went on to study Fashion at Virginia Intermont College. Upon graduation, Jane applied to become a stewardess. She was accepted into the Delta Airlines training program which was scheduled to begin a few months later in January of 1972.
A Love Meant to Be
While waiting for the training program to begin, Jane lived with her parents in Pawling and worked as a hostess at Birch Hill Inn of Patterson. Don recalled the night they met, “As fate would have it, or as I believe, the Holy Spirit, Jane just happened to be working the night of my welcome home party from Vietnam.” Don was so taken by Jane’s beauty and grace that he asked the Inn’s owner for her number. Nervously, he called to ask her out. Their first date was to the movie “Lovers and Other Strangers.”
As Don explained, “I didn’t really care where we went or what the movie was – I just wanted to be with her.” Their love grew quickly. “It was just meant to be, and we both were so sad after the holidays when she went to Atlanta, Georgia and I traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky to assume my new [military] assignment.”
Love Grows Long Distance
Although the couple had to be apart, their love continued to grow, fueled by long distance calls and trips, courtesy of Jane’s position with Delta. On one of those visits Jane helped Don organize a party for the Armor School. Attendees were wowed by Jane’s attention to detail and many senior officers advised Don not to let her get away. “To this day people still comment on how Lady Jane was an excellent entertainer and hostess,” Don explained. While Don was also impressed and appreciative he stressed, “My reasons for liking and loving Jane had absolutely nothing to do with her ability to host a good social function.”
A Family Is Born
In April of 1972, Don asked Jane for her hand in marriage. The following June the two were married at Holy Trinity Church in Pawling. Their first dance was to the Carpenters’ song, “For all we know” – from that first fateful movie, “Lovers and Other Strangers”.
A few years later, the couple was blessed with the birth of their first child, Christopher. Their daughter Cherilynne Whitney arrived three years after. Don stressed that, “Jane was an incredible mother. Her real passion in life was taking care of our family and raising our children.” As time went on the couple welcomed 8 precious grandchildren to their loving family: Jonathan, Ellie, Riley, Lindsie, Mitchell, Lillian, Benjamin and Asher Jeremiah.
A Special Way
While raising her family, Jane sometimes served as both mother and father since Don had to be away fulfilling his military duties. Jane was in many ways as committed to caring for fellow military families as she was for her own. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, she established a Family Action Care Team (FACT) aimed at offering information, support and a sense of normalcy for Army family members. As Don’s career advanced, Jane was always by his side. Once he had retired from the military and later assumed the role of Putnam County Sheriff, Jane continued to shine. “Jane had a very special way about her that made other people feel good about themselves,” said Don. This endearing characteristic made her, “An exceptional Commander’s wife and First Lady of the Sheriff’s Office who was loved by the Sheriffs and their ladies throughout New York State.”
Dedicated to Giving
Jane always looked out for others, and was driven to support many charitable causes. She made a quilt every year for the American Heart Association and crocheted over 80 caps in the form of flowers and animals for the children at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. Even after becoming ill with cancer and suffering from a stroke, she raised over $6,000 in the “Scare Away Cancer Scarecrow Campaign.”
Gracious Until the End
Jane battled illness with great strength, and still, “Counted her blessings and looked for the bright side of every situation.” That positive energy and strong spirit was evident as she made her final home at the Center for Comfort Care & Healing (a journey that Don bravely detailed in a speech delivered at the New Fairfield/Sherman Giving Circle’s Breakfast). Her room was a reflection of her love-filled life with family photos, balloons and lovingly-crafted quilts. In her final moments, Don recalls how Jane mouthed “Thank you” to those who were attending to her care, just before passing away peacefully at 4:00 am on December 5th – a Lady until the end.