Shirley A. Smela, 67, Brandon

Shirley A. Smela

BRANDON — Shirley Smela died on March 20, 2022, the first day of spring, from the debilitating effects of frontotemporal dementia. She passed peacefully at the Wintergreen Residential Home in her adopted town of Brandon while in hospice care.

Shirley was born in Middlebury at Porter Hospital on April 6, 1954, the daughter of James and Ora (Harris) Ellis. She grew up in East Middlebury and graduated from Middlebury Union High School in 1972.

She worked in a variety of capacities at the Brandon Training School for eighteen years, where she cared for residents with the same unselfish attention she gave to everyone she met.

Shirley is survived by her husband of 34 years, Greg Smela, whom she married on May 21, 1988 at the Methodist Church in East Middlebury, and her son Matthew of Castleton, Vt.; her sisters Muriel Landis and husband Lowell of Washington, Vt.; Linda Babbitt and husband Ken of Salisbury, Vt.; Candace Torrey and partner Glenn Ellifritz of Oakland, Md.; along with numerous cousins, nephews and nieces throughout Vermont. Through her marriage she gained a new family who loved her as their own. She was predeceased by her parents.

She called Vermont home but her family took a fifteen-year detour to the Washington, D.C., area in 1993, where she was a full time mother who mentored other children at the local elementary school and volunteered for a variety of school-related groups. After a time, she began working as a pharmacy technician after completing the certification process and continuing to do what she liked best: helping people.

She moved back to Vermont in 2008 as her family built a house in Cornwall, where she loved working in her gardens and helping her husband keep bees and chickens. She loved watching the wildlife in the area and traveling around Vermont, enjoying the scenery and the people she met. She worked part-time at Porter Medical Center where she enjoyed helping people until her retirement in 2016.

Her final move to her favorite home was in 2015 when she retired to Brandon, what she called “the most wonderful town in Vermont.” She loved the people she met, the neighbors and shops, and caring for her kitties in her house on High Street, which she decorated with art from the local artists she admired. A member of the Brandon Forestdale Lions Club, Shirley was proud of her work helping the club provide vision screening to elementary school students. She also volunteered as a docent at the Stephen Douglas House, where she was able to continue her life’s work: enjoying everyone she met. She continued to love her Boston Red Sox, Lake Dunmore, music, reading, gardening, and lazy afternoon drives around the state. Every day was Christmas in her mind.

In her final years she was cared for by her husband until her condition required a move to a care facility that was close to her beloved home. While there, she continued doing what she was known for, that is, loving everyone she came in contact with. The old phrase “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet” could have been coined with her in mind as she lived her entire life in a manner that brought joy and happiness to all she encountered.

And this is why the world has become a bit more sad. Shirley had the biggest, kindest heart of anyone and had nothing but good to say about anyone. She couldn’t understand anger, nor could she express it as “there isn’t any time to waste” on such a thing. She was the kindest soul anyone ever encountered.

Her family thanks the caring staff at Wintergreen in Brandon, Dr. Mei Lei Frankish, the caretakers from Bayada Hospice, and the wonderful staff at Project Independence/Elderly Services in Middlebury for their support.

A private memorial will be held in the autumn when the colors change, for that was Shirley’s favorite time of year. (She absolutely did not like March and mud season!) In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations be made to Project Independence in Middlebury, Vermont.

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