“I never woke up one morning and said, ‘well, I think I’ll live to be 100,’” said June Smith, who hit the century mark earlier this month. “But it happened, and here I am.”
Born June 9, 1923, Smith has been fortunate enough to watch the world develop immensely over the years. And she’s been a part of positive change right here in the District.
Smith’s only son, Campbell, was born with an intellectual disability. But in 1946, there were no local supports for folks like him.
“We had to try to fill in,” said Smith. “It was strictly personal.”
So she started travelling northwestern Ontario, talking to families and organizations, advocating for support services and explaining the importance of early recognition.
“Our main aim at the time was to get them into a school,” she said.
Schools at the time weren’t equipped to support those with intellectual disabilities.
“Cam’s IQ was 52, I think,” said Smith. “And it was just enough to force the local school board to accept him.”
She said it wasn’t until about six years later that the government stepped in to help out.
“I can’t tell you how it felt,” she said. “When I look today, I couldn’t imagine not having that anymore. I’m just amazed at how much those programs [helped] them.”
Smith is regarded as one of the founders for Community Living Fort Frances and District.
Now 100, Smith recently saw some ladies throw a party in honour of her triple-digit birthday.
“The girls did a super job,” she said.
Her great niece Julie Tilbury came from Thunder Bay to help organize the celebration at the Sister Kennedy Senior Centre in Fort Frances. She said about 50 community members came and shared their best wishes.
“June was a stellar hostess,” said Tilbury. “She greeted every person. There was lots of love in the room, lots of respect in the room, lots of fond memories.”
Explaining how Smith is a role model to her, Tilbury shared a recent interaction.
“I asked June the other day what she was most proud of,” she said. “I thought her answer was pretty interesting. She goes, ‘I just have always maintained that whatever situation comes my way, I do the best that I can with it,’ which … has changed my perspective.”
This past year, Smith had to deal with a broken wrist and hip.
“The grace and determinative attitude she’s gone through it with has been awe-inspiring,” said Tilbury. “But she’s met each [challenge] head-on with a positive attitude. It’s been beautiful to watch.”
Tilbury says her great aunt gives her a lot to look up to.
“June is probably one of the most amazing women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” she said. “She’s remarkable.”
Smith was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1978 for her work in organizing and growing the local branch of what was then called the Ontario Association for the Mentally Retarded. She also worked with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).
She and her second husband travelled all over the world including China, England, Belgium, Taiwan, Greece, France, Switzerland, Kenya, and Japan.
“If it was there, we more than likely visited it,” said Smith. “No sense going on a trip if you can’t see something different.”
Her family also loved spending time at their cabin on Rainy Lake, especially Cam, who loved to jump off the dock, yelling “Geronimo!” every single time.
With a little help, Smith still owns and manages the apartments across from the liquor store in Fort Frances.
“It’s really been a wonderful life for me,” she said.