Sandra Smith Ellard of Alderson, WV, passed away Friday, December 21, 2018, on the Winter Solstice, surrounded by family at UVA Medical Center after a hard-fought battle with gliomatosis cerebri, a rare brain cancer.
Sandra was born on December 22, 1960, in Atlanta, GA, to the late Curtis and Dot Smith.
She grew up with her four surviving siblings, Denise Lyle (Wendell), honorary sister Beverly Barwick, Denny Smith (Judy), and Nelson Smith (Carla). Along with her immediate family, Denise and Beverly were by her side as she departed this world.
She met her husband Ray at a church youth group in Riverdale, GA, in 1976. They were married on June 14, 1980, and moved to Ray's home state of WV shortly after. In addition to many good times throughout their relationship, they were truly married "in sickness and in health" as they both nursed each other through several illnesses and injuries during their 38 years together. Ray stayed by her side until the very end. She is also survived by Ray's parents, Almeda and Raymond Ellard, who loved her very dearly and described her not as just a daughter-in-law, but a daughter.
Sandra raised two daughters, Bethany Ellard-Richmond (Thor) and Katherine Ellard (Nick). Sandra was a wonderful mother who always had her children's best interests at heart. She imparted not only her knowledge, but her sense of social justice and humanity to each of them. She provided them with a lifetime of memories of vacations, holidays, and special moments.
Both of her children and their partners helped care for Sandra during this illness. Bethany had the honor of serving as her end-of-life doula, helping her depart from this world in a meaningful way.
Sandra had a rich career life that was dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and find their way out of unfortunate circumstances. Sandra was a registered nurse with degrees in both nursing and health services administration, and held professional certifications in case management, community action, and lactation consulting. At the time of her passing, she was a clinical case manager for Aetna, where she worked with people with complex medical and socioeconomic needs. Though a nurse by trade, she also functioned as a social worker, working tirelessly to find resources, coach, and heal people through her caring words. Her co-workers looked up to her for her extensive knowledge and dedicated and caring attitude. Even after having to transfer to the neuro-ICU, she still worried about the people on her caseload, and wanted to check in on them.
From 2008-2015, she worked for the Right From The Start Program, assisting pregnant women and infants. Sandra had a particular interest in helping families give their babies a good beginning to their lives. She taught countless women how to be better mothers. She had a deep understanding of the protection a mother's love can give to a child, which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. One of the last things Sandra did as a professional was facilitate a partnership between her last two jobs in order to help more families in her home area. Sandra also had dreams of one day opening a nonprofit organization to help others that had nowhere else to turn.
Sandra lived her life with a cheerfulness and optimism that led her to making the world a better place for others. She embodied her beloved Dumbledore quote from Harry Potter, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
Sandra is survived by many special family members and friends. Of particular note are her nieces, Eustacia Smith and Julie McClure, who visited and assisted her in her last weeks; her cousin, Barbara Bowles, who helped at home; and her three dear friends, Andrea Judy, Kim Kramer, and Kelly Cooper, who all checked in on her continuously as well as visited her before she passed away. Sandra, being the kind and friendly soul that she is, also made a new friend at UVA, Chaplain Kathleen Knaus. Kathleen played a vital role in helping Sandra and her family from the day of her diagnosis until after she passed away. Also of note is Dea Mahanes, a clinical nurse specialist, who greatly assisted Sandra and her family with her end of life, and Dr. Camilo Fadul, neuro-oncologist. There are many other family, friends, coworkers, and UVA team members that Sandra would want to express her gratitude for, who played a vital role with their generosity, compassion, and words of encouragement during this time.
She is missed deeply but her influence lives on through the people she has helped, including those closest to her.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks you to read this excerpt from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley below, as it was one of her favorite stories, and incorporate it into your own life in whatever way you can.
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, "Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can't save all these starfish. You can't begin to make a difference!
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, "Well, I made a difference to that one!
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said.
Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
An open house celebration of Sandra's life will be held at a later date with the Rev. Nina Emmerling and Chaplain Kathleen Knaus officiating. Be on the lookout for the announcement and join her family in giving her a memorable farewell.
Send online condolences by visiting www.hillandwood.com.
Hill and Wood Funeral Home in Charlottesville, VA, is in charge of arrangements.
Obituary originally published in the December 31, 2018 edition of The West Virginia Daily News.