Lawrie Boarer

The Matriarch of Beth Shalom

When Mrs Smith’s reputation as a counsellor first reached our ears, she had already established, as a Methodist Ministers wife, a unique family home of loving care and had followed this up with her husband and sons, Beth Shalom, a house of peace. Her family would be able to be extended to include others and her counselling and love and acceptance would help many. She was already known internationally.

It was 6 years into the life of Beth Shalom, some 38 years ago, that Shirley and I first came to Beth Shalom. Mrs Smith welcomed us like a mother and listened to all our problems at the time and helped us make a fresh start on married life. It was as if we had come home. For all the years since she has continued to inspire a desire to care about others. If only we can aspire to a fraction of her ethos, it will be enough. Her warmth and love included our two sons, their partners and our three grandchildren and as a family we benefited greatly. The love and counselling even included Shirley’s mum, aunt, relatives, and our friends.

In the passage of time, we witnessed that warmth and love reaching out to an ever-increasing number of families. Her reputation as a counsellor and Mother had reached to at least 5 of the 7 continents in this world. Word of mouth, from those who had experienced her ministry, gave hope to those in need.

Mrs Smith’s hugs and unfathomable ability to understand people touched the lives of orphans and widows too. She was especially treasured by those who had experienced the trauma of Genocide and so countless victims found the beginning of healing in their lives. Her unique ability to understand and her welcoming heart renewed their hope for the future.

When Mrs Smith’s sons discovered the way in which the world had failed to fully understand the depth of suffering experienced by many of the Holocaust Survivors, she was right there with her sons. Her life’s work, Beth Shalom, was given over to the Survivors of the Holocaust as a home of understanding and love for them. Mrs Smith and her sons became the founding directors.

The Survivors not only received the love and understanding they needed, but also found assistance to speak about their experiences. The gardens provided a suitable place to record the names of their loved ones lost, and to plant a rose in their memory. Such was their gratitude that they happily supported the award of an MBE to Mrs Smith by Her Majesty the Queen.

When Mrs Smith wrote her memoirs, she tried her hardest to be succinct and factual. Even so, the Memoirs extend to over 50 volumes. Her life’s work continued apace in retirement, and such were the comings and goings at her retirement home, Bethany, that it had something of the business of a mainline railway station yet maintaining her unique ability to listen to every detail of a person’s life that was on their heart at just that minute to share.

Some of the most rewarding moments for her included: Receiving her MBE, Her Majesty the Queen recognising her sons in Her birthday honours, the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Beth Shalom, celebrated at Westminster Abbey, and the announcement at the 24th Anniversary that she was indeed the Matriarch of Beth Shalom.