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V. Anne Smith, known for civil rights efforts in Spokane, dies

Thu., Oct. 3, 2013, midnight

V. Anne Smith, who was active in the community for 40-plus years, died Monday at age 79. (File)
V. Anne Smith, who was active in the community for 40-plus years, died Monday at age 79. (File)

V. Anne Smith, a little woman with a loud voice and a big heart who led the Spokane chapter of the NAACP for 10 years, died Monday.

Smith, 79, was active in civil rights, women’s rights, education and community improvement in Spokane for more than 40 years.

“There’s not very many areas of Spokane that V. Anne hasn’t touched,” her longtime friend Teresa Hemphill said. “She never did anything halfway. Anything she did, you could expect style and class.”

Born in Bluefield, W.Va., she came to Spokane in 1968 with her husband, Jim, when he was transferred to Fairchild Air Force Base. It was a culture shock, she told a Spokesman-Review reporter in 2004, because she didn’t see another African-American for two weeks. The first black person she did see turned her back and walked away when Smith tried to introduce herself.

But she met others who introduced her to the city’s small minority population and Calvary Baptist Church, where she was a member for decades. Hemphill, who also came to Spokane in 1968 and met Smith soon after, said it wasn’t long before Smith joined the Order of the Eastern Star and later started a local chapter of Links Inc., an international women’s service organization.

“She had a passion for helping people,” said Dorothy Webster, another longtime friend. “She was always asking, ‘Why can’t I do something to make it better?’ ”

One of those passions was civil rights, whether it was joining the efforts to protest the Aryan Nations holding a rally in Riverfront Park in the late 1970s or calling city officials to task for the lack of diversity and racial insensitivity on the Park Board in 2007. But another passion was education, and she was a driving force behind the Col. Michael Anderson scholarships, named for an African-American from Cheney who was a member of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia when it exploded in 2003.

She wrote great speeches and helped run campaigns, including the successful campaign for Joyce Bobb-Itt, the first African-American elected to the Spokane School Board.

In 2007, she received the YWCA’s Carl Maxey Social Justice Award for her fights for social justice and work as a youth mentor. She said at the time she was pleased because the award was named for her longtime friend and ally in fights for civil rights.

“She’ll be remembered for her tireless efforts for civil rights,” said Bevan Maxey, Carl Maxey’s son. “Our community loses a lot when we lose people with a memory of what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

The V stood for Verna, Webster said, but she always went by V. Anne: “It was a unique name for a very unique individual.”

She’d suffered from heart problems in the last year, Hemphill said, and was in the hospital Monday when she died. Earlier in the morning, she was singing to the doctors and the nurses who stopped by her room.

“She went out with a smile on her face and put a smile on theirs,” Hemphill said.

Smith is survived by her husband, a son, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter. A funeral is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Calvary Baptist Church, with burial at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Greenwood Memorial Terrace.

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