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The Catalyst

Former employee known for her ‘enthusiasm for life’

By Kimberly McGhee
Business Development & Marketing Services

Willette Gault Smith died Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Hospice Center in Mount Pleasant.

Willette Smith

Smith joined MUSC’s Department of Business Development & Marketing Services in April of 1999 as production coordinator. In her tenure at MUSC, she served in many roles, including a long stint as the physician liaison coordinator, before she retired on Feb. 28. She was employee of the month shortly before her retirement.

Affectionately known as Sarge by the MUSC physician liaisons for whom she served as coordinator, Smith graced MUSC and the marketing department with her class, courage and her contagious enthusiasm for life and for her work.

According to Sarah Johnson, a retired physician liaison, “She had class. She went out of her way to provide for the liaisons the things that we needed for our trips. She saw the best in everyone and the talents they offered.”

Director of Marketing Chris Murray remembers that “Willette always had a smile and Southern charm to share with everyone she encountered.” Her supervisor, Linda Meehan, admired her courage under fire: “Even in her toughest hours she came to work every day with a smile on her face and willing to do whatever was needed of her.”

In addition to her broad experience in public relations — Smith often commented she had worked almost every job a public relations firm can have, from media buyer to copywriter to production coordinator — She taught dance and theater at the college level, wrote and directed her own plays, and ran a newspaper.

Smith shared that creativity with her colleagues. Former co-worker Lisa Giles remembers that “The stories of her life read better than a Steel Magnolias-style novel… Some of the funniest times I can ever remember include Willette Smith. She is a shining light to me.”

No department event went uncommemorated by an original Smith production, and no employee departed without a song by Smith to celebrate their unique gifts and contributions. When Johnson left, Smith wrote her a farewell tribute to the tune of Happy Trails, which was Johnson’s signature goodbye, and, along with long-time colleague and co-conspirator Priscilla Parker, dressed up in cowgirl hats, holsters, play guns, and even moustaches. Parker looked forward to her own tribute: “I always wanted to know what my song would be when I retired.”

When former MUSC employee Meaghan McNamara heard of Smith’s death, she posted a heartfelt tribute on her Facebook page, excerpted here: “Willette and I worked together at MUSC, and when I moved away in November she re-worked an old song and serenaded me on my last day. In February she retired, and the next day found out her cancer had returned. The doctors gave her weeks to a couple months, but she lived five more months. She loved life that much… I think that is what I will miss the most: Miss Willie's enthusiasm and celebration. Whether it was a colorful flower, a song to sing, or some extra mayo on a tomato sandwich, Willette would celebrate it. Too often as ‘grown ups’ (myself included) we squash our enthusiasm instead of celebrating all our lives have to offer. Willette didn't. She was vibrant and silly and grateful!”

For those who would like to celebrate Smith’s life, a memorial service will be held at noon, Sept. 7 at McAllister-Smith Funeral Home, 1520 Rifle Range Road, Mount Pleasant. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Hospice Center, 676 Wando Park Boulevard, Mount Pleasant, 29464.

September 4, 2013

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