Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Genevieve Murray Smith (Part 2)

Genevieve Murray Smith

In my last post, I wrote about the Bay Area childhood of my maternal great-grandmother, Genevieve Frances Murray.  After graduating high school and moving to Los Angeles, Genevieve married my great-grandfather, Glenn Alvin Smith in 1913.  They had seven children together.

Glenn Alvin Smith was a serial entrepreneur; a true businessman.  Up until the mid-1930s, he owned an export business that shipped barrels of oil to Asia.  This work required him to go on some lengthy trips to China, and Genevieve often accompanied him.  Business was good and the Smith family prospered.  However, in the mid-1930s, the export business collapsed.  I've heard various accounts of the reason for this failure, including the Great Depression, the proliferation of tanker ships that replaced barrel shipping, and increased political tensions as World War II drew nearer. Glenn then engaged in a series of other ventures, including oil wildcatting in Texas, which was unsuccessful, and wine production and shipping, which was more successful.  During the ups and downs of these years, Genevieve supported Glenn's endeavors and raised their children.

Genevieve Murray Smith with six of her seven children.  My grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, is at center.  His sisters (L-R): Virginia, baby Joan, Patricia, Shirley and Barbara.  About 1924.

What I know of my great-grandmother's temperament and personality comes largely from the accounts given by her daughter-in-law, my grandmother, LaVerne Smith, her son-in-law, William B. Ross, and her grandchildren.  My grandmother always had nice things to say about Genevieve, whom she liked very much.  She said she was a good mother-in-law, who never interfered with the households of her adult children.

My mother describes Genevieve as being rather formal, not one to get down on the ground and play with her grandchildren, but she always enjoyed spending time with her grandmother. Genevieve liked to take my mother and her siblings to Disney movies. Genevieve apparently had a real fondness for Disney films.  My mother also remembers her grandmother taking her to lunch at places like the Bullocks Wilshire tea room in Los Angeles, which was an elegant and memorable location for a child.

Genevieve in Los Angeles

Another of Genevieve's granddaughters recalls that Genevieve would stop by their home in Hancock Park after shopping at Bullocks Wilshire and have coffee with her eldest child, Virginia.  Virginia was by then married with children of her own, and she and Genevieve would stand in the kitchen and talk while sipping their coffee. However, some of the best accounts of Genevieve's personality come from William B. Ross, Virginia's husband.  I quote below from memoirs written by William B. Ross in 1995.

If Glenn was a driven type-A businessman, she [Genevieve] was his match as a family woman.  She was charming, well-dressed, well educated, very intelligent and knew absolutely her family goals and her expectations for her children.  In other words, she ruled the home roost PERIOD!  She had a housekeeper while the children were growing, but she did not spend her time at teas, bridge parties and idle socializing.  She shopped, she cooked, she involved herself with St. Paul's school and church and kept an eye on the children's progress. 
Mother Smith was a great believer in education.  She herself had been well-educated in Catholic schools through high school.  But, even in her forties, she was continuing to enroll in courses at UCLA extension.  She was a grammarian, an English scholar with a good vocabulary and excellent sentence construction verbally and in writing.  She had done office work after graduation from high school.  For her children, she encouraged them to work during Christmas and summer vacations, but her goal was to give them a university education.  And she and Glenn did!  Virginia and Joan to USC; Glenn Murray to Stanford; Barbara and Patricia to UC Berkeley.

Along with education, she stressed her Catholic religion.  She had a deep and personal faith and transmitted it to her children.  Yet she had no trouble with those who were non-religious or Protestant.  She told me that faith was a gift from God, and the fact that her husband was not a Catholic and her eldest daughter married a Presbyterian (who five years later became a Catholic) didn't bother her at all.

Before we grant her sainthood, let's acknowledge that Mother Smith had a couple of very minor faults.  She had a temper (but that temper helped run a large household) and she was very sensitive about her age.  Her girls were instructed that as adults they must never tell their ages.  She never told hers but it was known that she was a teensy bit older than her husband.  However, if you visit Resurrection Cemetery, you will find a headstone she ordered for herself with the same year of birth as Glenn.  Now that is a white lie... and probably the only one in a long and meritorious life. 
Virginia once told me an amusing story about the Genevieve Murray Smith Irish temper.  One evening she got into some kind of household policy argument with her husband.  Finally she said she was flying north the next day to see her sister Gertie in Oakland.  Glenn then could run things to suit himself.  Sure enough, she got the kids off to school and then drove out to the Glendale airport where rather primitive planes took off with a dozen or so passengers.  She bought her ticket, boarded the plane, flew off, but soon heard the motor sputtering. They landed in a field or pasture somewhere in Santa Barbara County and eventually returned in a bus.  Guess she showed Glenn. 
One final note on Mother Smith.  She was a wonderful friend and companion and I never knew what "mother-in-law problems" were all about.  She never told me what I should or shouldn't do.  If she had any criticisms, I never heard them and if I did something she admired I heard it frequently.

When their children were grown, Genevieve and Glenn sold the house on Buckingham Road in Los Angeles and moved to San Marino, just east of downtown Los Angeles.  They lived at 1210 Mill Lane for the rest of their lives.  Genevieve died of cancer on July 29, 1968 at the age of 80.  She was preceded in death by her husband, Glenn, who died in 1960. They had been married 46 years.  She was survived by all seven of her children and forty-seven grandchildren.

Genevieve and Glenn Smith with their son, Glenn M. Smith, and grandson Tom

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