Cornelia (Connie) Kuykendall Smith passed away peacefully surrounded by her immediate family on Sunday, November 6, 2022, at the age of 92. She led a caring and vibrant life. She infused every action with love and never shied away from advocating for what she believed in.
Connie was born in Morganton, North Carolina on September 12, 1930. Her parents were Mary Helen Howard Kuykendall and Cornelius Kuykendall. She grew up alongside her sister Mary Helen in Madison, NC.
Raised in a community small and trusting enough for hide-and-seek games across town, Connie’s love for physical activity was a defining focus of her life. With a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (at the time, Woman’s College), she left Carolina behind to start her career teaching at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. During her time in Grove City, she met the dashing engineer, Russell (Russ) Smith. After enjoying an initial walk together (at the eager behest of Russ’s parents), they quickly fell in love. Connie married Russell Paul Smith Jr. on August 23, 1951.
After marrying, Connie and Russ moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and had two daughters—Jan Elizabeth Smith Joyal and Juli Smith Rigell. As the matriarch of her young family, Connie fell naturally into a caretaking role. She and Russ raised their children with love and patience. The Smiths shifted to a New England lifestyle in 1964 with a move to Narragansett where Connie taught P.E. at Prout High School for girls. In Rhode Island, Connie and her family enjoyed blueberry picking, regular times sunning and eating sandy sandwiches at the beach, and trips to their family’s vacation home, “Tri Via,” in Vermont. They returned to Oak Ridge in 1980 where they settled into a cozy cul-de-sac home with a huge garden, perfect for hosting many rambunctious grandchildren. No matter where it was, Connie’s house was always full of pampered pups, the smell of baked goods, and classical music.
Connie was a force to be reckoned with—the Energizer Bunny incarnate. Nothing she did was frivolous, infusing intention behind every action. Her passions for the arts and education were evident in how she spent her time. Notably, she supported the Oak Ridge Symphony as an integral member of the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association (ORCMA) guild, volunteered with seniors at NHC HealthCare Oak Ridge, and tutored students in the Oak Ridge School District.
From her roots as a P.E. teacher, fitness was a constant throughout her life. She was an avid golfer as a member of the Oak Ridge Country club. She loved swimming and was a member of Swimmin’ Women in Oak Ridge. When not in the pool or on the green, she regularly worked out at the fitness center participating in yoga classes and lifting weights. She loved the outdoors and kept an herb garden to complement Russ’ vegetable garden.
Connie incorporated her garden’s bounty into many gourmet, multi-course meals. In the kitchen—as in life—she never let us see her sweat, fighting off a shower of compliments with a dismissive “it was easy!” or “well, the ingredients were good.” Her culinary skills were only outshone by her baking. She kept her cookie tins full, and she made the best pie crusts in the world. When she did finally slow down each day, Connie enjoyed reading, knitting, solving crossword puzzles, or socializing over a gin and tonic.
Their beloved grandchildren include David Joyal, Corrie Joyal Keller, Hannah Joyal Fry, Jonathan Joyal, Suzannah Joyal Reagan, Daniel Joyal, Peter Joyal, Sarah Joyal, Bekah Joyal, Laura Rigell, and Ellen Rigell.
Connie and Russ moved to Brookdale Assisted Living in Maryville, TN, which was the place of her death. Her passing and her life will be honored every day by remembering and attempting to emulate her loving care and full life.
There will be a memorial service to honor both Connie and her beloved husband, Russ Smith, who passed away in 2020 (for Russ's tribute site, please go to: https://www.cremationbygrandview.com/obituaries/russell-smith-36). The ceremony will take place at 2 pm this Saturday, November 12, 2022, at the United Church, Chapel on the Hill, in Oak Ridge, TN. If you are inclined to donate in their memories, please consider a gift to the Chapel on the Hill which has a strong commitment to helping the Oak Ridge community through financial assistance to needy families and individuals as well as scholarships for local students.