Merwyn Haselden Smith died on December 5, 2015, at the age of eighty. I did not know Merwyn, but her granddaughter Elizabeth Hutchison is an assistant editor at Garden & Gun. And as happens in small offices over long days and sometimes long evenings, your colleagues’ families begin to feel a bit like your own. Over the years, as the staff traded stories about relatives, Merwyn always seemed to rise to the top—just as in life, it seems.
Merwyn was born in Georgetown, South Carolina, the daughter of a schoolteacher and a surveyor for International Paper. She was the only girl in a family of five boys, but she had no trouble holding her own. A voracious reader, she was accepted to Winthrop College and graduated with a degree in library science. While at college, she filled in for a friend on a blind date and met the love of her life, a peach farmer’s son from Filbert named Ben Smith.
The two married in 1956 and before long had two children. For fifty-nine years the very first thing Ben did when he came in from the orchards was kiss his wife. As a librarian at Clover High School, Merwyn was known as a no-nonsense disciplinarian (Shhhh!) and a lover of words, with the divine skill of pairing a student with the right book at just the right time—opening minds and changing lives in the process. She was also a fixture at the family’s peach stand for more than forty years, learning to speak Spanish in her spare time so she could converse more freely with some of the employees. And she was a crowd favorite. “No matter what mood customers were in when they arrived, no one ever left unhappy,” says her daughter Beverly Hutchison. Merwyn could hold court on white peaches versus yellow, freestone versus cling, and the fine distinction between an eating peach and a cooking peach.
If you were smart, you listened. If you wanted to taste the most delicious dessert, you asked that she make her double-crust apple pie. If you wanted to lose, you played her in a game of bridge. If you wanted to be a person who wasn’t bound by cultural shackles, you channeled her courage. If you wanted to know the ability to open your heart to anyone in need, you emulated her.
“I always felt like she could do anything,” Elizabeth says.
No, I did not know Merwyn. But I wish I had.