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Obituary: Elizabeth Smith-Johannsen

Elizabeth Smith-Johannsen, a longtime resident of Port Washington and Oyster Bay, died on Nov. 18, 2011 at her home in Highlands Ranch, CO, after a very brief illness. She was 89.

Elizabeth Smith-Johannsen was born in Ann Arbor, MI, on Feb. 17, 1922 to Ward and Elizabeth Davidson (nee Bostwick) where her father was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan.

With a growing family, she with her older brother Ward Jr., moved to Port Washington in 1923, where her father accepted a position with Con Ed, retiring as vice president in 1960. The transplanted family still maintained a strong connection with Michigan, spending many summers at her grandparents’ home in Iron Mountain until the mid ’30s.

Those summers were filled with a lot of activities, especially riding horses, and camping expeditions to Sylvania, a preserve in the Upper Peninsula that grandfather and several other families owned. These experiences inspired her love of nature, animals, and the environment, subjects that she was passionate about.

Her dad, inspiring the children, were avid fans of anything technical and leading edge. Those interests included aviation and in the ’20s and ’30s, airplanes were all the rage. The family owned two planes, the last one being a Fairchild high wing four place aircraft, kept at Aviation Country Club on Long Island. During those early days of aviation, the family had a chance to meet some of the famous flyers of the day. The family took numerous trips together in the Fairchild, and anywhere they went, it caused quite a stir.

Growing up on Long Island, she attended school in Port Washington and Pine Manor in Boston, where she was active in the French Club.

After graduation from Pine Manor in 1942, she accepted a position with the Office of Scientific Research & Development (OSR&D) at Rockefeller Center in New York, doing her part for the war effort on the Manhattan Project, with her brother working at Oak Ridge.

At the conclusion of WWII, she married Ralph Smith-Johannsen in 1944, whose family also lived on Beacon Hill in Port Washington. They were married at St. Stevens Church. A reception followed at Manhasset Bay Yacht Club where both families were members, and settled to a new home in Port Washington.

She was active at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, Scouting, The Cow Neck Historical Society and the Garden Club of Port Washington, serving as president and the Pine Manor Alumni Association, as well as social activities at MBYC where the family had a boat and participated in week-end bay racing. As a resident of Port Washington for almost 50 years, she had many good and longtime friends in the area.

Brother and sister were extremely close and devoted to each other. They both shared a curious intellect and were very much kindred spirits. Despite those distances with Ward Jr. now living in Tucson, they were in contact almost every day, while frequently exchanging visits to Tucson or Oyster Bay, until her brother’s death in 2006.

With children now grown, she and her husband Ralph decided to find a more bucolic setting, and relocated to Mill River Road in Oyster Bay in 1972. The move brought an even larger circle of friends and activities, joining St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, and serving on the Vestry and the Altar Guild. Her husband Ralph died in 1986, but she continued her active and vigorous participation as a volunteer in many local organizations including the Huntington Community Thrift Shop, where she was its longest serving volunteer. Continuing her pursuit of gardening, she was a member of the Matinecock Garden Club and a past president, and a regular volunteer at the Planting Fields Arboretum.

She was a strong advocate of preserving the character and heritage of Oyster Bay. She was also a generous donor to many causes and charities, particularly supporting endangered species and environmental preservation groups, including the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor.

She is survived by her daughter Ann Forsyth of Denver, CO, son Peter of Jupiter FL, four grandchildren, David, Peter and Elizabeth Smith-Johannsen of Sag Harbor, NY, and Maria Hamill of Cary, NC, and two great-grandchildren, Emma and Michael Hamill.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 17 at St. Johns Church, Route 25A, Cold Spring Harbor, NY.