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Cynthia Smith

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Cynthia Smith Obituary
Cynthia Smith

Cynthia Smith was the very epitome of the post-war American Dream. She was born in 1931 in Walsall, in the industrial heart of England. From an early age, she decided she did not want a life of domesticity having watched her mother cleaning the fire-grate with four children in tow. During Cynthia's teenage years, Britain was emerging from the Second World War and rationing was still in force. But Cynthia dreamed of a more glamorous life and would run up her own clothes on a sewing machine – developing a trademark style which would stay with her for life. She would later attribute her business success to the fact she loved to wear fashionable hats.

In 1958, she decided to pursue her dreams and took a passenger ship to New York, journeying on from there to San Francisco. It was a daring thing for a young, single woman to do at the time. Staying at the YWCA, she applied for a job as a typist to a port captain of a shipping liner. So began a career in the travel industry. She worked for Continental Express – a business which realised the potential of charter flights to bring European tourists to US cities. She went on to work for the Swiss company Kuoni as a regional sales manager and the German-owned travel business DTR.

Cynthia understood the instincts of aspiring travellers who wanted to make the most of the boom in air travel. She was a consummate professional whose story-telling skills and sense of fun made her the perfect tour guide for travelling groups. Her work would take her around the world – including to exotic destinations such as Iran and China. Such was her reputation, that Napa Valley's Robert Mondavi would ask Cynthia to show his European friends round San Francisco - confident that they would be in good hands. She championed the role of local travel agents (she became Vice President of the Californian Travel Agents Association) and was well respected by tour operators, cruise line companies and the bosses of the big San Francisco hotels.

Although she took American citizenship, she never lost her love of Britain and its traditions. She would cut out newspaper reports about the Royal Family and the armed forces – particularly the Royal Air Force. On her visits back to London, she would make a beeline for the Savoy Grill where old-fashioned silver service waiters would attend their glamorous customer. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the British Benevolent Society of California – an organisation which in turn helped her as old age took its toll.

Cynthia retired from the travel industry in 1996 aged 65 but retained her curiosity about the world. She was always a good communicator, keeping in touch with her siblings across the globe particularly her brother Maurice in New Zealand. She loved to socialise with her friends in the Bay Area and was a regular in the panelled hotel dining rooms of Nob Hill just up from her rented apartment in Powell Street. Even when confined to a residential home in later life, she would tell one visiting relative to "go out and have a bloody good time."

Cynthia died in San Francisco on the 18th September 2018, aged 87. Her ashes will be sent back to her home town of Walsall, UK, for burial next to those of her parents.


Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 21, 2018
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