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Estella Wheeler Smith, Ed.D.

  • On October 7, 2020

Estella Wheeler Smith, Ed.D., passed away on October 2, 2020, following a life filled with faith, family and fulfillment. Before her retirement in 2001, she enjoyed successful careers as an educator, banker and corporate executive in addition to being a loving wife, Mother and Grandmother. Dr. Smith spent a lifetime contributing to the development of curriculum and instruction for children, teaching young adults, and advancing corporate engagement in communities where she lived and worked.

Born on March 18, 1940, in Glendora, Mississippi, Estella’s family moved to Gary, Indiana, during her childhood where she grew up, graduating from Froebel High School, Class of 1957. She married Leon Lynch, a musician and mill worker, at an early age and they raised three daughters.

At her parents’ urging, Estella continued her education graduating with a B.S. in Education from Indiana University, Bloomington, in August 1968. During years living in Gary, she worked as a bookkeeper and third-grade teacher while raising her children. One of her most memorable pupils was rising recording artist Michael Jackson, who Dr. Smith recalled always forgot to take his hat off when he came to school.

In 1968, when her husband’s work relocated the family to Memphis, Tennessee, Estella continued her career in education. From September 1968 to May 1974, she worked as a classroom teacher for Shelby County Schools where she primarily taught fifth grade. Subsequently, Estella spent one year and nine months, September 1974 to May 1976, as an Instructor and Graduate Assistant in the School of Education at the University of Memphis. During her years in Tennessee, she earned both a master’s degree, August 1972, and a doctorate degree, May 1977, in Education from Memphis State University, now known as the University of Memphis.

In 1977, when her spouse’s career moved the family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she continued teaching, working from September 1977 to May 1979 as an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

The lessons that Estella taught in the classroom were naturally carried over into her family life as her oldest grandson, Austin Dunn, expressed, “Gram was a great woman and one of the strongest people I’ve known. I never forget how she used to correct all of our improper grammar and remind us that ‘umm’ wasn’t a word. She will be greatly missed.”

In October 1979, Dr. Smith made a career change enrolling in a 10-month program as a Management Trainee in Community Banking with Equibank in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After successfully completing the program, she stayed with Equibank in Pittsburgh for more than seven years assuming roles with increasing levels of responsibility. For more than three years, she was an Assistant Manager, followed by 16 months as an Assistant Vice President/Manager, and two and one-half years as a Vice President/Regional Manager. In October 1987, Dr. Smith was hired as President of Heritage National Bank in Pittsburgh, a subsidiary of Equimark Corporation. The bank had more than $9.2 million in total assets and she led the commercial lending institution until June 1989.

In October 1989, Dr. Smith made her next career change being hired as Manager of Investor and Community Relations for Duquesne Light Company (DQE) in Pittsburgh, a position she held until April 1995. From May 1995 until her retirement in July 2001, she was General Manager of DQE Public Affairs.

Dr. Smith was a longtime member of both Phi Kappa Phi and Kappa Delta Pi Honor Societies. Her community commitments included serving as Chairperson of the Board of Directors for Hill Community Development Corporation; Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors and Chairperson of the Administration and Finance Committee for the Port Authority of Allegheny County; and Board Member of the UPMC Health System, Magee-Women’s Hospital, and Local Initiative Support Corporation.

Upon retirement, she moved back to the Memphis area settling in Germantown, Tennessee, within walking distance of her youngest grandchild. For many years, Dr. Smith regularly volunteered as a poll worker during election season. A devoted Mother of three and Gram to five grandchildren, she enjoyed all manner of family gatherings and reunions before and during her retirement. Travel both across the U.S and internationally was a lifelong passion for Dr. Smith. Her itineraries included multiple cruises and stays in such locations as Alaska, Hawaii, the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica. She also visited multiple countries in East and West Africa, as well as travelling to Croatia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, Venezuela and other European countries.

An avid golfer who also enjoyed frequent long walks around her community, she was a longtime member of the Lladro Collectors Society, having acquired scores of the beautifully sculpted Spanish-made porcelain figurines throughout her life. Estella also amassed an impressive collection of paintings and collectibles created by such African-American artists as Synthia Saint-James, Jonathan Green and Leroy Campbell.

Dr. Smith was pre-deceased by her first husband of 29 years, Leon Lynch, and by her second husband, John T. Smith, who she was married to for nine years. She was also pre-deceased by her loving parents, Thomas J. Smith and Mattie L. (nee Wheeler) Smith. Estella is survived by her daughters: Tina Lynch of Pittsburgh, Sheila Champlin (Michael) of Germantown, Tennessee, and Tammy Dunn (David) of Roswell, Georgia, along with five adult grandchildren, Austin Lyles Dunn, Brice Hillard Dunn, Sullivan Lynch Dunn, Isabella Noel Dunn and Paige Estella Champlin. In addition, she leaves three sisters, Geneva Poindexter (Ronald), Queen Esther Jackson and Shirley Jones (Jim), two brothers, John David (Nanette) and Marvin (Sharon), plus nieces and nephews in cities across the country and a loving extended family.

“Gram’s lessons will always stick with me and keep me from compromising!” said her oldest granddaughter, Isabella. “The queen of class will be much missed.”

Dr. Smith requested there be no memorial service in her honor; however, for those who wish to pay respects to her, please donate to the charity of your choice in Estella’s name.

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