Elizabeth F. Smith, 81, meticulous editor of Eisenhower papers at Johns Hopkins

September 14, 1998|By Debbie M. Price | Debbie M. Price,SUN STAFF

No detail about Dwight D. Eisenhower, no recollection from the former president and five-star general, was too minor for Elizabeth Foster Smith.

To Mrs. Smith, history was built upon the details, mundane and important alike, and those details must be true.

When Mrs. Smith died of cancer Thursday, at 81, at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson, that respect for accuracy was one of the many things her family remembered.

As an associate editor of "The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower" for the Johns Hopkins University, Mrs. Smith spent a dozen years interpreting declassified research from the Pentagon and preserving the former president's remembrances for researchers.

"Mom was very meticulous and careful that the truth be known," recalled her son, Bruce Foster Smith of Reisterstown. "It meant an awful lot to her."

"Most of all, I would say that she was a very loyal, dedicated mother, a loving mother," said Mr. Smith. "She was a very independent woman."

Mrs. Smith, a lifelong Baltimore resident, joined Hopkins to work on the Eisenhower papers in 1964. Although she had no college degree, she earned the title of associate editor, a rarity for a woman at the time.

Working closely with renowned historian Stephen Ambrose, Mrs. Smith gained a reputation as a person who could be trusted to get the facts right, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they were.

"Whenever I have been tempted to take an unjustified shortcut or to finesse some annotation, I would ask myself, 'Would Betty do this?' and asking that question would end the temptation," Hopkins colleague Joseph P. Hobbs wrote to Mrs. Smith upon her retirement in 1976.

As important as the Eisenhower work was, however, Mrs. Smith told her family that she was proudest to have been an editorial and research assistant for Dr. Helen B. Taussig, the physician who pioneered studies of congenital heart defects in infants in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During that time, Mrs. Smith also was administrative officer for the pediatric cardiology clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Mrs. Smith also worked as a secretary to U.S. Sen. Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin in 1941, and later for American Airlines as an office and sales manager. She taught adult education classes for the Baltimore County school system.

As a young woman, Mrs. Smith attended University of Baltimore and studied at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and at the Dmietrov Studio of Washington, nurturing a love of the arts that would stay with her all her life.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the Lemmon Funeral Home, 10 W. Padonia Road, Timonium.

In addition to her son, survivors include three sisters, Nellie Chaney of Cockeysville, Cora Chaney of Reisterstown and Jane Foster Tucker of Oxford; two brothers, Vincent Clarence Foster of Greenspring Valley and Robert Lee Foster of Towson; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 9/14/98

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