Irene Lanora Smith
Daughter of J.T. Smith and Irene Williams Smith of Montgomery, Alabama, Irene was an international pioneer in the field of touch and a staunch advocate for the unspoken needs of those at the end of life. Born in Seattle and raised in Dallas, Irene was well-known and loved in the San Francisco neighborhood of Cole Valley where she lived for the last 42 years. When she became ill with cancer, her wish to remain at home was fulfilled by dedicated friends and volunteers who provided care for her around the clock. She was a revered teacher, mentor and friend who lived entirely by spiritual values, in a world of service and mindfulness.
After working with renowned Thanatologist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, as a close protege for ten years, Irene brought her extraordinary compassion to AIDS patients as a massage volunteer. It was at the time when the AIDS pandemic was raging in the early 1980's that Irene found her calling. As a volunteer with Hospice of San Francisco and on San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 5B, she honed and developed her remarkable presence and therapeutic skill which became the foundation for decades of devotion to her work.
Irene provided direct care and a sacred sense of connection, intimacy, comfort and relief to hundreds of people in their homes and in hospitals, hospices and skilled nursing facilities. As a workshop facilitator, educator and author, she impacted many more thousands of lives. As Director of the internationally acclaimed non-profit, Service Through Touch (1982-1999), Irene established massage programs for persons with AIDS worldwide. In 2001 Irene founded Everflowing, an educational outreach program dedicated to teaching mindful touch as an integral component to end of life care. Irene taught healthcare professionals, caregivers, family members and body workers tactile support skills for caring for the ill and dying. Her book, "Massage in Hospice Care, An Everflowing Approach" and other educational materials have been utilized by institutions worldwide and continue to be available on her website, www.everflowing.org
Irene received many awards and accolades throughout her career. Her most prized was being the National AIDS Memorial Grove's first inductee for AIDS service.
As Irene said, however, "I was not born in the 1980's. I had a life before that" Early on, Irene overcame alcohol and drug addiction. She reflected, "Don't ever judge ANYONE. You have no idea what they might be capable of." Irene's sensitivity, tenderness, wisdom and depth of spirit was inimitable.
The irony of facing her own death during another pandemic was not lost on her. The ones closest to her during the past year were a pair of ravens who visited her on her third story apartment deck on a daily basis. They gave her great pleasure and reflected the sanctity of Irene's connection to nature and all of it's creatures.
Irene died on April 4 at the age of 75 and is survived by her only sibling, John Smith, of San Francisco and innumerable friends & colleagues worldwide.
Irene's "Uncle Hank" was the legendary Hank Williams.
A private memorial service will be held at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Information on an online memorial service to be held in May will be posted in the near future at www.caringbridge.org/visit/irenesmithtouch
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Apr. 8 to Apr. 11, 2021.