Mary Grace Smith, a founder and longtime board president of Wellfleet Preservation Hall, died suddenly and peacefully in her sleep at home in Wellfleet on Feb. 14, 2022. Her death was confirmed by her friend and caregiver Melissa Yeaw. She was 87.
Gracie was born in Flint, Mich. in 1934 to Edith Ryan Miller and Joseph Caldwell Miller. She went to Flint public schools and then to the University of Michigan, from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.
After moving to Massachusetts, Gracie volunteered for the League of Women Voters, serving as president of the local chapter while raising her two daughters. She took up graduate studies in political science at Boston University, earning a master’s degree for her work on the politics of China. Her former husband, the Rev. Jack Smith, was the chaplain at B.U. as well as the co-priest in charge of Wellfleet’s summer Chapel of St. James the Fisherman. Beginning in 1980, they spent summers in their house on Whit’s Lane.
The other St. James priest, the Rev. Milton “Mac” Gatch, and his late wife, Georgie, had first met Mary Grace and Jack Smith in Cambridge in 1959.
“Our friendship began almost as a cooking contest,” said Mac Gatch this week. “We alternated weekend dinners, Gracie and Georgie trying to outdo each other. Before long, we relaxed, but the dinner table was always central to our relationship.” Gracie would come home from work and oversee a dinner for an ever-changing company of family, friends, and B.U. students. Gatch recalled a dinner on Gull Pond in Wellfleet, “when the children, taking a cue from the new movement for Women’s Lib, overthrew their parents and declared Children’s Lib.”
Gracie moved to Wellfleet from the South End of Boston with her partner Simone Reagor in 2005 and they became year-round residents. In Boston, she had had a successful career in publishing and as an organizational consultant.
She and Simone soon became influential and respected members of the Outer Cape community. Gracie was a founder of Wellfleet Preservation Hall, helping to guide the acquisition of the former Catholic church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Main Street and its transformation into a community center of arts and culture. She also joined the board of Outer Cape Health Services at a time of major transitions for that organization, helping to guide it through changes of leadership and significant restructuring of its physical and human resources.
Their comfortable home on Taylor Farm Road, designed by Gracie’s daughter-in-law Carol Henderson, became a gathering spot for a remarkably wide circle of the couple’s friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators. Board meetings of both Preservation Hall and Outer Cape Health routinely took place at her dining room table.
“Gracie was our feisty, insightful friend who chortled when she laughed,” said Sally Deane, the former CEO of Outer Cape Health. “She was a true whiz at crosswords, but never cross with words toward her friends.”
“Since the Monday when she died, I’ve been hearing her distinctive voice in my head, counseling me,” said Bert Jackson, the current president of the Preservation Hall board. “I am so grateful for the time I had with her love and commitment. I greedily wish we could have had a little more.”
Gracie is survived by her daughters, Sarah Smith and Priscilla Smith, and her grandchildren Sam Smith-Boyle, Vanessa Smith-Boyle, Lucy Henderson Smith and Peter Henderson Smith.
She was predeceased by her partner Simone Reagor in 2010.
A celebration of her life is being planned for the late summer.