James A. Smeallie '53
Deceased November 21, 2013
Great Grandpa Jim—as his extended family called the beloved Jim Smeallie—passed away Nov. 21, 2013, a peaceful end to a long struggle with cancer. Unable to attend our 60th Reunion, he worked as co-chairman with George Edmonds from the start, making a difference, especially in the planning stage. Notes, Sandy Riley, our compassionate alumni office liaison, "Jim was such a dear sweet man. I am so glad I had the chance to work with him, no matter how brief the time. He always had a smile on his face and great love in his heart for the Class of 1953."
In fact, Jim was one of the kindest, smartest members of our class, a magna cum laude biology major. Much about him—his history, character, legacy, passion for music, deep love of family, anecdotal skills, gardening and opera—outpoured at an emotional memorial service in South Windsor, highlighted by a magnificent family-effort eulogy.
Jim grew up in Amsterdam, N.Y., where he first tested his beautiful tenor voice in a boys' choir. At Amherst, he honed his musical skills in the college band (sousaphone), the glee club and—most important—as one of the first members of the Zumbyes. After Amherst, Jim completed U.S. Navy OCS and was stationed on a destroyer out of Newport, R.I. His professional career included 27 years with Connecticut Mutual Life, a golden handshake in 1985, freeing him for more family time and volunteer work. Jim always wanted to make a difference and did.
A hopeless romantic, Jim's only marriage was to Barbara "Tommy" Thompson, his high-school sweetheart and mother of their two daughters, Anne and Jane. Tragically, Tommy died in 1993. Devastated but stoic, Jim moved forward to become one of the first great-grandfathers in our class, a position in which he took immense pride.
We extend our deep condolences and gratitude to the entire Smeallie family.
Philip W. Ransom Jr. '53
Golly! Our 50th Reunion next spring. Doesn't seem possible but I am actually looking forward to seeing lots of old mends.
Ten years or more ago, reunions, homecomings, local alumni gatherings just didn't interest me. My life was pretty ordinary. My marriage to my high school sweetheart, Tommy, had produced two fine daughters, one of whom gave us two lovely granddaughters who are both in college now.
In 1985 after 27 years at Connecticut Mutual Life, a retirement package was presented which I couldn't refuse. My last 16 years of running conventions and travel had burned me out. My skills led me to an outfit that managed the affairs of non-profit associations.
In 1990, tests on my wife done to find the cause bad back pain, revealed cancer of the stomach which had spread to the backbone. My work schedule was reduced to accommodate radiation and chemotherapy regimens and spend more time with Tommy.
During the spring of 1992, tests indicated the cancer had spread to the brain. In June, I retired to take care of her full time.
Later that year, Vic Mahler contacted me with helpful advice on hospice and other matters. Things went well through Christmas. But shortly after her condition deteriorated and she died at home on January 15, 1993.
Because her death was not unexpected, I had decided not to wallow in self pity or cut myself off from life, but to do something worthwhile in the community. This led me to do volunteer work at our public library, raising funds and working on a successful ballot proposal on bonding for enlargement of the facility. Also the local private library and museum needed docents for their Indian artifacts collection. I was trained to convey to youngsters the lifestyle of the local tribe called the Podunks. (Honest!)
The wonderful memorial service at the church reactivated me in church matters, including, several years later, the building of a memorial garden where Tommy’s ashes reside.
In February of 1993, after visiting relatives in the state, Vic and Janet went way out of their way to have lunch with me. It was an uplifting event. Vic began to encourage me to attend our 40th reunion that year, which I did and thoroughly enjoyed. Somewhere along the way, Vic enrolled me as an associate class agent which also brought me back in touch with classmates.
In the Spring 1997 issue of our Alumni Magazine, there was an obituary on Hans Schreiber, class of 1954, who died suddenly the previous fall. Having dated his widow, Mary, back in college days (introduced to me by BETA brother Jack Gordon). I sent her a note of condolence. After several letters and phone calls, we started to see each other that fall, and we continue to do many things together while maintaining separate households 96 miles apart. Because of the time she spent on our campus, especially at the DEKE house, she knows men in our class as well as in 1954. Some married Mt. Holyoke classmates of hers. Having her with me at Amherst gatherings is a lot of fun. Mary joined me at our
45th reunion and hopefully she will be with me next May. She has brought much joy into my life and has brought me into her family and I have done the same with her.
The 50th anniversary of the founding of the Zumbyes in late May, 2000, was a great time with a great bunch. But that was already covered in Class Notes 2 years ago.
When I am not with Mary or thinking about her, my passion is gardening, especially growing salad vegetables. Canning tomatoes, and making marinara sauce is taking my time right now. Several batches of pesto from my basil crop are already in the freezer.
Obviously, Amherst has played a rather large role in my life in recent years. And I am grateful for it.