by Henry Lane Hull
When thinking of Iris Smith, the word that most often comes to mind is generosity. Across the long span of her interesting lifetime, she always was concerned more with what she could do for others than with her own needs and desires. A few years ago when she suffered a stroke, after her recovery she said she viewed it as a blessing because it brought her to a greater understanding of the pleasure she was able to derive from giving away many of her mementos to family members and friends.
For no particular occasion she would bring friends delicious items she had baked, or objects she had cherished, in order to let them know how important they were in her life. She was a familiar presence driving around town on one of her errands of kindness and she routinely eschewed asking anything of others for herself.
Iris was a native of Irvington, who with her late husband, Arnold, in retirement settled in the suburbs of the big city of Kilmarnock. Iris’s family, the Hearolds, were part of the history of Irvington long prior to the village being “discovered” by the outside world. She liked to recount her memories of what life was like there in those earlier days, when the economy was seafood driven and tourists were merely passers through on their way elsewhere.
In retirement Iris frequently dined at Lee’s Restaurant, where she liked a table near the door in order to greet her friends as they came and went. Usually, standing by the table as she dined would be two or three individuals listening in rapt attention to what she had to say. Everyone who knew her knew that she was a local font of enlightenment to be treasured and enjoyed and her memory was astounding. Along with many others, I can say that a significant portion of what I have learned about the lower Northern Neck has been due to having known Iris.
In those days from that earlier period that she vividly recounted, Route 3 went through Irvington to the ferry dock for the trip across the Rappahannock to Urbanna. Only later did the ferry service move from Irvington and Urbanna to White Stone and Grey’s Point, prior to the Robert O. Norris Jr. Memorial Bridge opening at that crossing in 1957. Long after the bridge opened, VDOT switched Route 3 and Route 200 in order to make Route 3 more direct to the bridge by bypassing Irvington. As with the late historian, C. Jackson Simmons, Iris was a living encyclopedia on Irvington before any of those modern intrusions occurred.
Along with her late sister, Pauline Franklin, Iris delighted in delving into the nuances of Northern Neck history, but unfortunately, unlike Pauline, she did not write down her recollections or the results of her inquiries in order to preserve that lore of knowledge. Indeed, Iris was the quintessential oral historian. Whenever I asked her about doing a book she would reply that she did not think anyone would be interested in “what an old woman thought,” to which I would reply, “But you’re not old!”, thereby eliciting an uproarious burst of laughter on her part.
Throughout her life Iris represented the embodiment of the authentic Northern Neck. For those who knew her she was a part of our history merely by being herself. She lived for other people and found her fulfillment in that lifelong endeavor.
Iris Hearold Smith, June 3, 1926 – December 30, 2017. R.I.P.
Happy New Year to readers and the Rappahannock Record staff and my appreciation for the kind comments that “Excerpts” has received over the years. May 2018 be a wonderful year for all!