Phoebe Deborah Rachel Smith
Phoebe Deborah Rachel Smith died Sept. 19, 2022, in the early morning hours at Deborah and Phil Shields’s farm home in Fisher, Ill. She married the late Vernon P. Smith Sr. on June 16, 1950, in Elgin, Ill. The Smith children were at her bedside. She was born on June 29, 1931. She graduated from Elgin High School and went to work at Sherman Hospital as the first African American nurse’s aide and phlebotomist where she met her husband. Mrs. Smith was a devoted mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend to many. Following a late-in-life diagnosis
multiple myeloma, she remained on the go. By mid-January of 2021, 80 percent of her cancer had been eliminated. Her resilience inspired the treatment team.
She and her husband raised their family in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the homestead property of her husband’s parents. There they grew beautiful gardens, hosted international students, mentored the African American students at Coe College and Kirkwood Community College, as well as many dignitaries over the years. She
and her late husband were leaders in the civil rights movement in Iowa. They started a movement encouraging interdenominational churches in the area to participate in the civil rights movement and social justice. They were among the founders of the African American Museum of Iowa. Vernon and Phoebe also were campaign committee managers of the Jessie Jackson presidential campaign in Iowa, and many Democratic statewide campaigns.
In Cedar Rapids she worked at Collins Radio, Jane Boyd Community House, and Coe College. She volunteered for the Indoor Sports Club, American Business Women’s Association, Religious Book Study Club, Criterion Club, African American Museum of Iowa, Mercy Hospital Cancer Center, and St. Dominic Hospital of Jackson, Miss.
Phoebe is survived by her children, Ruby Smith Love (Earnest Young, Jr.) Seattle, Wash., Vernon P. Smith, II (Phoenix), Deborah V. Smith-Shields (Phil Shields) Fisher, Ill., Phoebe D. Smith-Porter (Walter Porter) Jackson, Miss., and Katherine Smith, Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. Phoebe was proud to be the grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of 14. She is survived by her brother, Emil E. Downs, Benjamin S. Downs, and Gloria D. Gibson, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Phoebe was preceded in death by her parents, Jacob and Ruby Downs; husband, Vernon; brothers, Jacob and Otto; and sisters, Anna Marie, Gracie and Mabel.
She was a member of Bethel AME Church and the former Knox Presbyterian Church Cedar Rapids. The family would like to express their gratitude to the wonderful people at St. Dominic’s Hospital and Transitions Hospice. In lieu of flowers, gifts of memorial may be made to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation Smith Family Fund for the African American Museum of Iowa at www.gcrcf.org, the Vernon and Phoebe Smith Scholarship Fund at Coe College at https://bit.ly/smithscholarshipcoe, or Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Ill.
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