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Elena Smith


1923 - 2019
SMITH, Elena Sordo Born: Torreon Coahuila, on January 25, 1923. Died: Midland, Texas, on October 17, 2019. Elena was born in Torreon, Mexico to Myrtle Sloan Sordo of Dallas, Texas and Pelayo Sordo of Torreon, Mexico. Mert, as she was known, and Pelayo were married in Dallas. They came to Torreon, where his family owned a general store. Elena and her brother John were born there in an atmosphere of prosperity, with servants, nannies and Sunday drives. Spanish was the language, and Catholicism was the religion. Elena would use her bilingual skills throughout her life, and her Catholic upbringing was always a strong spiritual influence. Pelayo had become involved in Mexican politics through Antonio Villareal, a high-ranking member of the PRI party and his sister's husband. In 1929, these two found themselves and their families caught up on the wrong side of a violent revolution. Elena's father and uncle were forced into deep hiding, while the rest of family fled north to El Paso, on the last train out. The family moved to the edge of Dallas to live with her maternal grandparents on their rural farm with Pelayo later joining them. She was Valedictorian of her graduating class at Pleasant Grove High School and became eligible for a scholarship to any state college. The financial strains of the Great Depression years led to the divorce of her beloved parents and forced Elena to forgo college to help support her mother and younger brother. Elena's first job was as a receptionist in the offices of Kenneth Murchison & Company insurance in downtown Dallas near the Dr. Pepper soft drink plant. Back then Dr. Pepper's sales pitch was 10 2 4, round the clock refreshment. Dr. Pepper offered free samples at the plant during those times. Elena and her first cousins, Jane and Catherine Sloan, were frequent visitors to Dr. Peppers' Happy hours. The Trio remained life-long friends. When Elena was 24, she met (Joel) Howard Smith, and she knew at their first meeting that this was the man she would marry. They were wed in August 1947 and remained happily married until his death 54 years later in 2001. Elena always loved Howard's sense of humor and intelligence. Following a honeymoon in Chicago, Howard worked as a sales representative with J.T. Baker Chemicals in Dallas. Elena became a housewife with the birth of her children; Joel in 1952 and Marty in 1955. The family moved to Memorial area in Houston in 1958 with J.T. Baker and in 1961, Howard resigned from his sales job to manage his investments from his home office. Elena became an excellent cook participating in a monthly dinner club with friends and spoiling her family with special meals and school lunches, pimento cheese and olives being one favorite. They melded their different faiths, Catholic and Methodist, by joining the Episcopal church. They traveled extensively with the kids and later by themselves. There were wonderful extended family vacations to Boulder Colorado, Seattle's Mercer Island and Europe In 1968, Elena and Howard bought a waterfront lot in Lakeway and built a beautiful home, taking up residence in Austin. Elena became active at University of Texas teaching Spanish classes and learning French to attend Cordon Blu in Paris for cooking lessons. She ran a small catering business from the house for several years. In 1975, with the children in college, Elena and Howard sold the waterfront house. They continued to reside in Lakeway, with Howard going back to work as an engineer with the Texas Department of Health. Elena began a career in real estate, which she would be involved with for the next 32 years. Her first big sale was the lakefront house she and Howard lived in. After a few years, she formed a real estate company with a partner, Lakeland Properties. She eventually bought out her partner and ran the business for the next 25 years. After selling the office property, she worked at Emily Moreland Lake Properties office until she retired from real estate in 2006. Elena moved to Midland, where she bought a home in 2006 at Manor Park. She spent the last 13 years of her life there. During that time she reconnected to her faith and volunteered weekly at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church making many friends. Here, she learned a major life lesson: how to be grateful for her life. By fall 2011, Elena was moved into memory care as her dementia continued to slowly worsen. She adapted well and still enjoyed her life. It was not until a few years ago that she became profoundly affected. Elena was so healthy and her will so strong that her death did not come until her body simply wore out. She is truly in a better place now. The little Mexican girl, known as "Petitos", has come a very long way over her 96 years: from Mexican hacienda to hard-scrabble ranch, to marrying her soul mate, to living in the Memorial area in Houston, to tirelessly caring/providing for her family, to having a waterfront mansion, to owning/ operating a real estate business and a 32-year career, to learning at the end to be grateful and enjoy the journey. Her story was a border story, a Depression story, a Greatest Generation story, and a women's rights story. She is survived by her children: Joel Smith Jr., and Marty and spouse Jim Massie; and grandchildren: Kate and spouse Zach Sautell, and Teil and spouse Melissa Massie. She will remain an inspiration to her family and friends. Much thanks goes out to the staff at Cowden Cottage in Midland who doted on Elena in her final years.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Nov. 3, 2019
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