Helen Smith, 81, worked at Bendix for 30 years

June 30, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Helen I. Smith, a retired communications manager and computer specialist who worked for more than 30 years for Bendix Radio Corp., died Tuesday of heart failure at Potomac Valley Nursing Center in Rockville. She was 81.

The longtime Ellicott City resident, who moved to the nursing home two years ago, began her career during the early days of World War II in the company's radar division at its East Joppa Road plant in Towson.

She left the company at the end of the war and returned in the early 1950s after she was divorced from Charles W. Smith.

"He was seriously emotionally disturbed after World War II, and spent time in veterans hospitals. He was never able to be financially responsible for his family, and after they were divorced, she became our sole support and raised her three children singlehandedly," said a daughter, Sharon Stoliaroff, a Chevy Chase psychologist.

At Bendix, Mrs. Smith, who had top-secret security clearances, specialized in the organization and preparation of highly sensitive data packages. She also supervised employees responsible for the data entry of details on engineering drawings and blueprints produced by the division.

Despite the sensitivity of the work and her reponsibilities, she was still classified as a senior clerk and was required to wear a pink badge and punch a time clock.

"Managers who wore green badges could come and go freely," Dr. Stoliaroff said. "However, she was a very humble and hard-working person who had no expectations."

In the 1970s, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission responded to complaints from another female worker at Bendix regarding job opportunities and discovered a telling letter in Mrs. Smith's personnel file. Her application to be trained as a computer programmer had been denied. The letter in her file stated that such jobs were only open to males.

As a result of the findings, many women received salary increases, and Mrs. Smith was promoted to management and sent to a junior college to study computer programming, said family members.

"She never knew the identity of the woman who filed the complaint, but she certainly benefited from it," said Dr. Stoliaroff.

At the time of her retirement in 1983, Mrs. Smith had been presented with the Beaver award in recognition of her devoted service to the company, which had become a division of Allied Signal Corp.

"While at Bendix, she also worked several part-time jobs to help support her family. Several nights a week, she set type for the Ellicott City Times and sold Avon beauty products," the daughter said. "She was committed to us having college educations, and she made sure that it happened."

After retiring, Mrs. Smith volunteered with Howard County Meals-On-Wheels.

The former Helen Iglehart was born and raised in Simpsonville, Howard County, where her parents operated a water-driven mill that ground corn and flour, and a country general store. She was a graduate of Ellicott City High School and the Baltimore Business College.

She was an avid Orioles and Colts fan and was a member of the Bendix duckpin bowling team.

She was a member of St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City, where she was a founding member of the church's chapter of the Catholic Daughters of America.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at St. Paul Church.

She also is survived by a son, John C. Smith of Annapolis; another daughter, Beverly Smith of Huntington, N.Y.; a brother, Walter R. Iglehart of Tucson, Ariz.; and six grandchildren.

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