Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Doris I. Walker-Smith (1933-2011) & Jack P. Smith (1930-2011)

Carlos Olvera sent me the following email Halloween night: 
"It is with deep regret that I must inform you that Doris I. Walker succumbed of her injuries received in the fire of her home early Sunday morning. She passed away at 4:48 pm this evening with all of her family at her side. Private funeral arrangements are being made.  A celebration of her life will take place at a later date." 
Her family followed up later with a short statement:
“At 4:48 pm ...(October 31, 2011), our beloved Doris Walker-Smith gently passed.  Our family is deeply touched by the outpouring of well wishes from the community. Doris was a resident of Dana Point for 48 years, and loved the city and the entire community. She had a particularly strong devotion to the Dana Point Historical Society. In lieu of flowers, a donation to the Dana Point Historical Society in her memory is suggested”.
In the early hours of  Sunday morning, a fire tore through the home of our friend, local historian Doris Walker-Smith (who some of you know as Doris Walker) and her husband, Jack Smith. With great difficulty, firemen pulled both of them from the burning building, but Jack died shortly thereafter. Doris was taken first to Mission Hospital and then to UC Irvine's Burn Center. News articles about the horrible fire and the aftermath are posted online:
(Doris and Jack are shown above at a meeting of the Orange County Historical Society in 2009.)

I must admit that while I've talked with Jack a few times I didn't know him terribly well. I know he was a very friendly man, a "straight shooter," and a proud Marine and spoke of his time in the Corps often. I will leave it to others to tell his story.

But I wanted to share some information about Doris that hasn't made it into all the newspaper accounts,...

For at least thirty years, Doris was the go-to historical author for South Orange County. A resident of Dana Point since 1963, she was co-founder of that city's historical society. She has served as an Orange County Historical Commissioner since 1994, and served as a director of the Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and Orange County Historical Societies. Doris taught California history at Saddleback College for seven years and was named the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year in 2007.

But for all that, Doris is best known for her writing. In addition to her countless newspaper articles and her public relations work, she also wrote at least twelve books, including:
  • Orange County Then & Now (2006)
  • Dana Point Harbor / Capistrano Bay: Home Port for Romance (four editions)
  • Dana Point, Images of America (2007)
  • Orange County: A Natural History (2009)
  • Adventurer’s Guide to Dana Point (1992)
  • Orange County Adventures With Children
  • Mission Viejo: The Ageless Land (2005)
  • Coastal Reflections: The History of Coastal Municipal Water District (2001)
  • Orange County: A Centennial Celebration – Sections of Orange (1989)
  • The Whales of Capistrano Bay (1982)
  • The Heritage of San Clemente (2000)
  • The Test of a Nest (a children’s book) (2010)
A number of these books, particularly the local community histories, are the first and/or most important books on their respective subjects. Any Orange County historian worth their salt will have at least a handful of her books on their shelves.

Aside from good writing, we came to expect at least two things in Doris' books that aren't always common in local histories. First, she usually started the story with the natural history of the land -- centuries before written records began. To her, understanding the land itself and the natural environment was crucial to understanding the events that took place there.

Also, we came to expect photos of her children and grandchildren to appear in her books. Doris photographed many historic sites to illustrate her books, and she apparently took her family along on her photo safaris. As a proud mother, and later as a proud grandmother, she often put two of her loves -- her family and local history -- into the same photo.

When I last saw her, about a week ago, Doris was working on another history of Dana Point and was also beginning to gather material for a book of essays on the history of Orange County's coastline. As usual, she left the room leaving residual bits of her incredible enthusiasm behind her, like a trail of breadcrumbs, for others to follow. Her exuberance was contagious.

Most importantly, however, Doris was a kind, thoughtful, and community-minded person who definitely left her corner of the world a better place than she found it. The loss of Doris and Jack is a loss for all Orange County.


retrocounty said...

I met Doris briefly at a Dana Point historical society meeting. She was a nice lady and we talked about how much I liked her books. Rest In Peace Doris.

Ellen Bell said...

Beautiful tribute Chris. I wish I had met her. I think we would have been kindred spirits. Her work leaves an important legacy.