Exuberant teacher assistant Shelia Smith dies at 61


This obituary is one in a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.

Shelia Smith grew up in the Alabama countryside and had an irresistible boil. “She has never met a stranger,” said her daughter, Shunkisha D. Smith.

Friends, fellow educators and students have embraced her with diminutives like “She-LIE-a”, “She-Fi” and “G-Mama”. She was a member for more than two decades at Straughn Elementary School in Andalucia, in Covington County, not far from the state’s southern border with Louisiana.

His job title was educational or paraprofessional assistant. But colleagues said it belies its impact and its everyday legacy.

“Shelia was special in so many ways: witty, energetic, fun-loving, kind, loyal, loyal, loud, fashionable, entertaining, enthusiastic,” said Bettye Anne Older, the school principal, in a email.

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“She loved it big! Shelia loved our students and our community, her family and her church, Alabama football and the local sports teams, ”added Ms. Older. “The students with special needs she worked with have always felt special because of her, and she cared deeply for them.

Ms Smith was vaccinated against the coronavirus on February 4. While she regularly wore a mask and frequently used hand sanitizer, she was already showing symptoms of the disease and tested positive the next day.

She was admitted to hospital on February 10. Two days later, she was transferred to the mobile infirmary, where she died of complications from Covid-19 on March 26, her daughter said. She was 61 years old.

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Shelia Diane Robinson was born in Andalusia on February 7, 1960 to Comer C. Daniels, who died of Covid-19 in November, and Ethel B. (Robinson) Graham.

She graduated in 1978 from Lycée d’Andalusia, where she was voted “Class Favorite” in her second and final year. Active in the First Baptist Church, she married Durrell Smith, Director of Parks of Andalusia, in 1987. He died in 2012.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Smith is survived by four brothers, seven sisters, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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Students at Straughn Elementary School come primarily from low-income families. Ms. Smith worked primarily with children with autism and other special needs.

“They were her passion,” her daughter said in a telephone interview. “Her love for children pushed her to do what she loved: helping and encouraging others to do their best.”

Ms. Older said that Ms. Smith “could make them laugh, she could make them do anything. The kids loved his open-mindedness and his antics on Wednesdays. “

“We can never replace her,” said Older. “She was loud and proud. A true lady from the South.