Marlena Elizabeth Smith was born in 1940, to Doris May and Frederick Downham, in Cambridge, England. She had six siblings: Alan, Sandra, Graham, Christopher, Margaret and Patrick. Her mother was an organizer, very clever businesswoman and homemaker. She had a wonderful childhood. Her mother had a great influence on her life, teaching her that you get out of life what you put into it. She also shared the advice to be kind and give of yourself to others.
Marlena was an active child. She loved going with her Uncle Sam and picking strawberries also potatoes at her grandparents' farm. Early on, Sandra remembers it was great fun sharing a bedroom with Marlena. In fact, Marlena got Sandra into trouble by making her giggle at night. When they were told to go to sleep, Marlena tickled her again and again. The house was filled with laughter and Marlena had a close relationship with her siblings. At Christmas, the other kids would go to Marlena and Sandra's bedroom and wait for Father Christmas to arrive. When the family went to Wisset Lodge, they didn't have electricity and so they used candles. One time, when Sandra went to bed first, she got out of bed and was standing at the top of the stairs in a long white nightie. As Marlena approached the stairs while carrying a candle, she looked up toward the top of the stairs and screamed. She thought it was a ghost, but it was her sister, Sandra. Marlena loved a good laugh. She also showed compassion at such an early age. Alan remembers when they were children staying at their grandparents' farm, one of the dogs attacked and killed a little hedgehog. Alan was devastated. Marlena was the first one to console him and she was only five or six years old at the time.
Academically, she earned good grades in school. While she had natural talents, she also invested time in learning. She was very good at cooking and brought home gourmet dishes she made at school. Instead of making a basic chocolate cake, she created an extra layer of raspberry jam and decorated the top. She found great success in creating delicious bites. Marlena enjoyed performing on the stage and earned the leads in school plays. She was very active in sports and excelled in swimming, diving, and running hurdles. She also played on the netball team, which is similar to basketball. She loved dancing and ballet and tap dancing. Throughout her life, everything that she touched she was good at, because she was a hard worker. It helped that she had an inborn curiosity, natural abilities and the willingness to learn.
When Marlena was 16-years-old and attended a dance, she met a young man who was a member of the United States Air Force. He was intelligent, charming and respectful. His name was Jerry Smith. He asked her for a dance and it resulted in the dance of their lives. Marlena and Jerry started dating, and the entire family enjoyed his company. The couple married on July 3, 1957, at Church of Our Lady and The English Martyrs in Cambridge. The next year, starting their own family, Marlena and Jerry were thrilled with the birth of their only daughter, Allison. Marlena was a wonderful mother. She held down a full time job as well as maintaining a perfect home... She always made sure there were hot meals in the evening. While she worked for General Accident Insurance Company in England, when the family moved in 1962 to the United States, her job transferred to Los Angeles office. Later, Marlena worked for Glenridge Pools for 30 years as the office administrator.
Marlena and Jerry worked hand-in-hand to create a loving home and true partnership. Allison's education was a priority, as she attended the Peter Pan private school. After school, Marlena made sure Allison was safe and cared for by Alice Coles, a wonderful woman and family friend. When Marlena's mother took ill, Marlena and Allison moved to the Cambridge for six months. It was very difficult when her mother passed away in 1966, but the entire family supported each other. Marlena had inherited so much from her mother including her energetic nature and business sense. Marlena and Jerry were driven toward professional success. The couple saved their money, invested wisely and remained in the apartment for more than a decade. In 1974, the couple bought their beautiful home at the top of the hill in Glendale. They didn't buy anything on credit, but they saved money and made each investment in the home when they could afford to pay cash. Over the years, they chose furniture piece by piece for the home and Jerry added the incredible deck outdoors. Marlena and Jerry made a strong team and they really worked hard. Allison remembers that she learned from her mother that you could do anything and be anything, if you worked hard enough. Marlena was so proud to see Allison graduate from Hoover High School and attend Cambridge Marlborough Secretarial College in England.
Marlena had many favorites in life. She was a member of the La Cañada Country Club and participated in many golf tournaments. She especially enjoyed the social atmosphere and camaraderie of golf. She liked playing cards with friends, especially the card game Shanghai Rummy. She played cards once a month at the homes of friends. When she went out, she loved getting people in the mood of fun, dancing, singing and laughing. When you took part, you were always glad you did. Marlena also had an incredible talent with gardening. She enjoyed pruning her flowers and plants, as she loved tinkering in the garden. She liked a variety of music as she played her favorite CD's on the stereo. She liked 50's music and songs by Bobby Darin, Elvis and Tom Jones. A wonderful gourmet cook, she joined a group of flamboyant, fabulous friends for a cooking course held on cooking night at different homes. She'd take a recipe, fluff it up and give it her own spin. Marlena enjoyed many kinds of food, from Indian dishes to a good steak... Her favorite restaurants were JJ's Steakhouse, in Pasadena, Clancy's Crab Boiler, in Glendale and Café Bijou in Pasadena. Her favorite hot beverage was of course English Tea. When she was out with friends, she enjoyed margaritas or vodka and tonic now and then. She liked to read romance novels by Barbara Bradford. Her favorite holiday was Christmas. She was so invested in the holiday spirit; it often looked like one of the catalogues with the extensive decorations. They would hang Christmas lights on the outside and every decoration on the inside of their beautiful home. She enjoyed wearing bright colors. There are fond memories of her lime green jacket. Marlena enjoyed shopping, especially for clothes, purses and shoes. She liked to look good and she was always fashionably elegant. She had a love of animals, especially dogs. Seymour was an Old English Sheepdog, who won many first place awards as a show dog. Marlena dressed up and would run around the ring in a skirt and flats. She was the best dressed in the ring, as Seymour was the best dog in the show. She loved her other dogs over the years: Bentley, an Old English Sheepdog; Dolly, an English Maltese; and Daisy, an American Maltese.
There were many travels back and forth to England to visit with family. And, there was always a party when Marlena visited. Before the time of the Internet, her siblings sent letters through the mail and Marlena phoned regularly. She was the matriarch of the family. When she visited, the extended family would meet at a pub or gather together at a family member's home. She had a talent for bringing everyone together. When the family had a party to celebrate her receiving of the M.B.E. at Margaret's house, the family was planning for it for ages, but Marlena trumped them all. The guests were invited to wear a funny hat. Les rolled out the red carpet and created a throne out of an old commode. Margaret wore an old bridesmaid's dress with horns and a wig, while Sandra wore a blue wig. Alan came in as a Confederate General. But, it was Marlena who stole the show when she arrived fashionably late and appeared in full regalia of an Elizabethan Queen and shocked everyone. Carrying a large sword, she knighted everyone who attended, receiving grand laughter and smiles.
Claire, her granddaughter, was Marlena's pride and joy. She was so looking forward to seeing Claire graduate from NYU in May. But, there are so many memories over the years of pure love. Marlena loved taking care of Claire after school and showered her with hugs and love. She extended the reach of her love. She was always very benevolent with all of her family. Family always came first in Marlena's world. There were many birthday surprises and memories, especially Jerry's 40th birthday party when Marlena hired a belly dancer. Another memorable event was Marlena and Jerry's 50th wedding anniversary dinner with Allison and Claire and her 68th birthday dinner at Taylor's with close friends. Claire loved going out to eat at restaurants with Marlena, especially enjoying Indian food or cooking meals at home. She remembers Marlena was always teaching her, giving her good advice.
Very accomplished and very organized, Marlena made a difference in all of her professional and volunteer work as well. She especially enjoyed her work for four decades with The British Home in Sierra Madre. In 2005, for her work as President of The British Home, she received the M.B.E. from the Queen of England for Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Jerry, Allison and Claire traveled with Marlena to England for the presentation. Jerry delivered a beautiful speech recognizing the high honor. When Marlena spoke with the Queen, she talked easily because she was always comfortable in her own skin. She enjoyed motivating the elderly at The British Home and they loved her to bits. Linda remembers she was very involved in the day-to-day running, future planning, and incredible remodeling and upgrading of the cottages. As President for a total of 14 years and a volunteer far beyond that, she put an enormous amount of time into it. Marlena liked helping other people and loved helping the elderly because that is what The British Home was all about. As a founding member of the Caernarvon Chapter DBE, she was always trying to raise funds. She even organized fashion shows at her home as part of fundraising for the home. Marlena had an amazing personality that would draw people to her. Through her work, she met several members of the royal family over the years when they visited in person. Those moments included the Queen's visit to The British Home in late 1983, Princess Alexandra, and she later met The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. The entire British community respected Marlena. When her family visited from the United Kingdom, they joined her for lunch at The British Home. The family was seated at the head table and everyone greeted them as though they were nobles, showing the great respect they had for Marlena. There are many memories of those visits. Margaret remembers at one of the functions meeting actor Cary Grant, which was quite an experience.
Marlena and Jerry enjoyed a practical joke now and then, as they truly were partners who made the most fun out of life. Andrew will never forget when Jerry put stick-on tattoos on his arm. Marlena and Sandra, his mother, were crazed over the tattoos believing they were real. They all enjoyed a good laugh about it. Marlena and Jerry loved going out for dinners and movies every Saturday night, spending time together. The hardest part of Marlena's life was losing Jerry. Life was never the same after his passing. The best part of her life was always family, friends and her charity work. Her purpose in life was to make other people feel better and to flip the negatives to positives. If you went to her with a problem, she'd tell you to look at it from the positive side. Even in her final months, she was determined to enjoy life and live it her way. For six weeks in June and July, she traveled with Allison to England and enjoyed an extended trip to Italy with Allison and close friends John and Pat Wright. The family enjoyed two big reunions, one in Cambridge and the other with Aunt Winnie, who is 93 in Devon. She made a big effort to include everyone, even booking a flight for Graham to attend. When they returned from the Europe, she visited Santa Barbara, her long time friend Eileen in Ventura and traveled with Peter and Linda to visit Margaret and Mike in San Diego. In October, Marlena helped celebrate Allison's 50th birthday in Las Vegas, even staying up late to play quarter and dollar slot machines. A few weeks ago, she had a wonderful dinner out to Clancy's in Glendale with Linda, Peter, Jerry, Cindy, Rosie and Jeff. It was a great dinner with a lot of shared laughter, very similar to Jerry's last dinner at Clancy's. In her final days, she told her family, "I love you." Marlena and Jerry had a wonderful life together. They did everything they wanted to do.
While there is so much to miss about Marlena and Jerry, the family is grateful they are together again. Everyone will miss Marlena who shared her love of life with strangers and friends alike. She lit up the room and by the time you left her, you were feeling better in many ways. Allison will miss her mother's unconditional love, voice of reason, friendship and not being able to pick up the phone to hear her voice. For Sandra, she will miss Marlena ringing her up and saying, "Hello, Luvvie…" For Margaret, she will remember Marlena being there for everyone in the family. Graham will miss Marlena's love and always being there for him. When he ran out of money in Israel one time, he rang her up and she gave him the money to get home. He will remember her willingness to help. Christopher will miss her ability to hold you up and rally everyone together on her visits. When he was in hospital after breaking his back in a car crash, the first name he heard was Marlena's name when he woke up. The nurse said his sister, Marlena, from America had called. Patrick misses her presence as she always inspired the family in every way. When her nieces (Amanda, Jayne and Anthea) visited, Marlena kept them for a few extra weeks enrolling them in school, creating new memories. Family was everything to Marlena. Linda, her friend of 40 years, will miss her confidante. She was like a sister as Marlena was the one person who you could share your problems, hopes and dreams. Linda will always remember the special travels to England several times and her amazing personality. Marlena Smith's legacy will be her giving spirit, kindness, positive outlook and the energy she created and shared in life. If you were down about something small, she told you "don't get your knickers in a twist." But, when it was something big, she was strong for everyone. Most recently, she had been sharing her strength with Derek, phoning him at the hospital or at the house.
In honoring her wishes, Marlena will be laid to rest next to her husband, Jerry, who preceded her in death. She is forever loved by her daughter Allison; granddaughter Claire; brother Alan and his wife Carol; sister Sandra and her husband Les; brother Graham and his wife Beverly; brother Christopher; sister Margaret and her husband Roger; brother Patrick and his wife Carol; nieces and nephews Claire, Marc, Andrew, Amanda, Anthea, Paul, Stewart, Karen, Jayne and Darren; and many wonderful friends.
Marlena will be best remembered for her positive, cheery attitude. She was the organizer, who brought her family together and made the effort to lift your spirits. Her advice would be to "pull your socks up and get on with it." Kind, loving and caring, she would tell you to stay positive, get on with your life and don't feel sorry for yourself. "You're never too poor to be clean and it doesn't take any more effort to be kind," she'd often say. She believed if you were feeling down, you should help someone else who was worse off than you. It would put your problems into perspective to move forward. Her attitude in living life was, "never give up and never surrender." Marlena was truly a gracious, classy original Lady, with a great wit and a tremendous laugh. We will remember that she welcomed everyone into her life with a spirit of love and accomplished so very much. As Jerry told his family, "If you ever miss me, just look up…I'm in the stars." The family believes Marlena has joined him there. In loving memory, may Marlena and Jerry Smith rest in peace…
In lieu of flowers; memorial donations are welcome in her name to The British Home in Sierra Madre,