Nancy W. Smith


Nancy Woollcott Smith died at her home off Tiah’s Cove Road after a decline over several months.

Born July 13, 1915, she was 95, outliving her husband Henry Clay Smith, her younger sisters Joan Jennings, Barbara Scannell, and Polly Murphy, and most of the diverse close friends accumulated during a rich and laughter-filled life.

Nancy was raised by lively and unconventional parents in Catonsville, Maryland. Their home was frequented by celebrities that included H.L. Mencken, uncle and theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, the actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, the Marx Brothers, and a contingent from the Baltimore Orchestra that played and drank beer at the Woollcott home on Saturday nights.

An aspiring writer from an early age, she once used her contacts to arrange for F. Scott Fitzgerald to read her work and consult with her over lunch. By her reports, his glass of water was not water and the consultation not very successful.

Nancy became a loving wife, mother, writer, political activist, renowned cook, and lifetime lover of children, dogs, birds, and all other living things. She and her husband, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University and also a writer, lived in East Lansing from 1949 to 1987. Their house was in an early subdivision developed by a faculty group, a tight-knit long-term community that encouraged the open doors, athletics, and shared meals that Nancy loved. With two productive writers at work, the dining room table was often littered with manuscripts or galleys and the house was filled with the pre-computer taps of manual typewriters.

The highlight of the year for the family was always the trip east in June to the Vineyard, where Nancy’s Bloede grandparents had set summer roots in West Chop back in the 1920’s. Nancy and Henry purchased their own camp on Seth Pond in 1949 and in the early 70’s built a home on Tiah’s Cove Road, which became their year-round home in 1987. Nancy published five popular children’s books, three with a Vineyard setting. Among many political activities, in May of 1964, she joined her sister Polly, Peg Lillienthal, Virginia Mazer, and Nancy Whiting in a civil rights effort that led to a night in jail in Williamston, N.C. Their role in the Civil Rights struggle is honored with a plaque in West Tisbury as part of the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard.

She is survived by her chldren and their spouses — David Smith and Joan Apt, Woollcott and Leah Smith, and Barbara Smith and Jon Previant, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and her sisters’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom are either Vineyard residents or visitors.

A memorial service will be held at her home off of Tiah’s Cove Road on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm. The family suggests that those wishing to honor her memory may make a gift to the Vineyard Nursing Association ( or P.O. Box 399, 15 Merchant’s Court, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568).