Sarah “Ila” Smith-Gardner, 63, died in Kalamazoo, Michigan on June 24, 2018 after a difficult battle with a rare brain disease. Born in Washington, DC on December 2, 1954 to Bill and Eleanor (Roudabush) Smith, Sarah lived much of her life in the DC area and later settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Following the progression of her disease, she moved from Charleston to Kalamazoo in 2016 to be closer to her child and grandchildren. An avid reader and professional editor, Sarah spent the last seventeen years of her career as a librarian for the marine biology program at the College of Charleston. She was a lover of music, gardening, cats, birds, and she particularly enjoyed spending time near the water. Sarah found tremendous joy over the past eighteen months in being geographically close to her beloved grandsons, Louis (4) and Bram (6).
Sarah had a sharp mind and a great sense of humor. She was a devotee of trivia and lifelong learning and her brain held a library’s worth of information on all manner of subjects. Sarah was very passionate about issues of social justice and her compassion toward the plight of others has left an indelible mark on her family and friends. Throughout her life she has been a champion for women’s equality (breaking glass ceilings across multiple careers), for the LGBTQ community (having always been a brave defender of her family), and for the ethical treatment of animals (as the person to whom one always brought stray cats). In recent years, as the disease impacted her physical capacity, she became very concerned for the wellbeing of those living with disabilities. She continued to advocate for others through to the end of her life.
She is survived by her child, Jax Lee Gardner (Jen Frank Brenton) and grandchildren, Bram and Louis, of Kalamazoo; Brother, Johnson Smith (Tina Woods-Smith) of Vienna, Virginia; Former partner and “buddy,” Don Gardner, of Charlotte, North Carolina; 27 nieces and nephews; and a beautiful and ever-extending web of cousins and dearly held friends-turned-family.
Sarah’s family wishes to thank all of those who helped to lovingly care for her throughout her final year of life, especially the staff at Sojourner Place, the Advanced Illness Management team at Bronson, and the staff of Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.
As Sarah did not wish to have a formal funeral, Jax will make arrangements for two celebrations of life to be held in Maryland (late August) and in Charleston, SC (late 2018). Additional details will be made available as plans are solidified.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to one or more of Sarah’s favorite organizations: