Gertrude O'Connell Smith
December 6, 1919 – July 28, 2020
Gerta O’Connell Smith passed away on 28 July 2020 in Williamsburg, VA. She was born Gertrude Striker on 6 December 1919 in New York City. As someone who always looked much younger than her age, Gerta was nicknamed “Striker Baby” at boarding school and told stories of how the nuns never suspected that she could be behind any of her group’s escapades. She attended New York University where she met her first husband, Nelson Kraemer.
She and Nelson had two children, Annie and Jan (who predeceased his mom in 2001); they moved from Woodville, MA to Chappaqua, NY in 1955. Gerta and Nelson parted ways in several years later. As fitting her active lifestyle, Gerta was an elementary school physical education teacher when she met William Harold (Hal) O’Connell. She married Hal in 1961 and her family expanded to include Dan, Kitty, Pat, and Peggy O’Connell. Shortly after their marriage, she returned to New York University to earn her master’s in education.
Gerta became a favorite teacher for many students and mentor for younger teachers at elementary schools in Mt. Kisco and Bedford, New York. A student once gave Gerta and her class his imaginary alligator, “Ally.” Students could take Ally home provided they wrote a story about his visit; weekends were sometimes interrupted by frantic calls from parents worried that their child had lost Ally! Hal O’Connell predeceased Gerta in 1980 and she retired from teaching in 1982.
Not one to be idle, Gerta traveled widely with the Elderhostel Program and served on the school board of North Salem, NY. Her activities at the Unitarian Church introduced her to Richard (Dick) V. Smith and they were married in 1992. In 1997 Gerta and Dick moved from New York to a retirement community, Patriots Colony, in Williamsburg. They continued their life-long appreciation for other cultures and education through global travel and classes at William and Mary. When home in Williamsburg, Gerta became active in the Tai Chi community, taking classes and then teaching classes both in town and at Patriots Colony. Dick predeceased Gerta in 2005. Gerta’s 90th and 100th birthday parties were celebrated with generations of family from many places.
As the matriarch of her large family, Gerta supported each member in her special way. She is survived by her daughter, Annie Kraemer Watts of New Orleans, her stepchildren, her 19 grandchildren/step grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren/step great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Gerta was an inspiration and a role model for colleagues, friends, and family. As her 9-year old great grandson wrote in a letter to Gerta during her final days: “the list of your good deeds is gargantuas.”
To support Gerta’s passion for lifelong learning, contributions can be made to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of William and Mary: https://giving.wm.edu/give-now/#allocation=3914&appealcode=17342
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Gertrude O'Connell Smith
August 8, 2020
She was a wonderful woman, a model to many. She will be missed. I'm sorry for those who will miss them in their lives, and wish the living all the best.
July 29, 2020
Annie and family. I will always miss the laughter and jokes shared with Gerta. She was always loving and full of smiles! Annie she loved you so much. Thanks for being an awesome daughter! My heart and prayers to you, your family, and Flo. I love you and will keep you two on my mind and in my prayers. May God give you comfort in His arms. Please know you were loved more than words could express.