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Smith remembered as advocate, arts supporter
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Kathryn “Kay” Ascough Smith (right) was remembered Tuesday for her work with the arts and the mental health community. Smith, who died Saturday, is shown here in April 1997 with her Shared Vision campaign co-chairman, Glenn Hunsucker, as expansion of Piedmont Arts began on Starling Avenue. (Bulletin file photo)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

By AMANDA ALDERMAN - Bulletin Staff Writer

Kathryn “Kay” Ascough Smith, who for years was a supporter of the arts, education and other causes in the community, was remembered Tuesday as a woman who used her grace and generosity to advocate for numerous groups and organizations.

Smith, who was appointed to the Virginia Board of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services by former Gov. Mark Warner and served on the boards of Piedmont Arts, Piedmont Community Services and numerous other organizations, died Saturday. She was 71.

Toy Cobbe, who retired in 2005 as executive director of Piedmont Arts, said Smith was a key player in the organization’s effort to expand its Starling Avenue property, which had belonged to Smith’s grandparents. Smith was co-chairman, with Glenn Hunsucker, of the Shared Vision Campaign, a fundraising effort that raised $2.5 million for the project in the 1990s, Cobbe recalled.

“A large part of (the campaign’s success) was because of Kay’s support and Kay’s involvement — her willingness to see what could be,” Cobbe said. “She had enough vision to know what it could mean for the community. And I think she was that way in all of the nonprofit and other boards she was on.”

Although she had known Smith for much of her life — they were a year apart as students at Martinsville High School — Cobbe said it was not until they worked together on the Shared Vision Campaign that she realized how much Smith could do.

“She was dedicated,” Cobbe said.

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“She was the kind of person that if she said she would do something, you could check it off your list. You knew it would be done, and it would be outstanding the way she did it.

“ ... And she was that way always. I worked with her on a number of other things,” and she always gave 100 percent, Cobbe said.

Jim Tobin, executive director of Piedmont Community Services, said Smith was an advocate for people with behavioral health problems, which was evident in her work as a member and chairman of the PCS board of directors. During her time on the PCS board, Tobin said, Smith often advocated for services for children, which at the time were not as extensive as they are now.

She left the PCS board around 2002, Tobin said, when Warner appointed her to the Virginia Board of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, which oversees the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. That department directly operates state hospitals and training centers for the mentally ill and intellectually disabled and indirectly oversees the state’s 40 community services boards.

To Tobin’s knowledge, Smith was the only person from Martinsville to be appointed to that board.

“Many state people who worked with her at that time remember her very fondly both as a person and as a very effective advocate for people with behavioral health kind of problems,” he said. She was “gracious, thoughtful, kind, smart. She just was appreciated. Everybody I’ve ever known who knew her thought the world of her.”

In addition to PCS and Piedmont Arts, Smith served on the boards of the Edwards Adult Day Care Center, Memorial Hospital, Carlisle School and the Special Education Advisory Board of Martinsville City Schools. She was a past president of the Garden Study Club and a member of Broad Street Christian Church.

Yet despite having a hand in so many organizations, Smith preferred to work behind the scenes, Cobbe said.

“She wasn’t doing it for the spotlight,” Cobbe said. “She was doing it because she cared and she believed in what she was doing. There were no bells and whistles with her; she was all just straightforward and get-the-job-done. She was reluctant to even be recognized, but she cared deeply, and I think the results of her efforts are certainly evident, and the legacy she leaves is just amazing.”

In recent years, Smith worked with her sister, Julia Ascough Work, to raise funds to build a patio outside Piedmont Arts’ Frith Performance Hall to coincide with the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2011. Kathy Rogers, current Piedmont Arts executive director, and Barbara Parker, director of programs, said the space provided the organization with a wonderful way to expand activities outdoors.

Everyone at Piedmont Arts mourns Smith’s passing, Rogers said.

“She truly was a great supporter of the arts. ... Right after I came here we celebrated our 50th anniversary, and Kay served on our gala committee, and she was just full of energy and great to work with,” Rogers said.

Beyond her community service, Cobbe said she will remember Smith as a wonderful friend and fine person.

“I can’t imagine that she ever had an enemy,” Cobbe said. “She was a real lady. She was a true, Southern, lovely, generous, kind person. ... I’ve never known anybody quite so good.”

In addition to Smith’s sister, survivors include her husband, Franky Smith; her mother, Purnell Schottland Ascough; one daughter; two sons; and four grandchildren, according to obituary information provided by McKee-Stone Funeral Home.


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