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Tina Smith remembered as a ‘gift’ / December 20, 2010
Tina Louise Dyer Smith’s church and community paid final respects to the slain mother of two and former resident at a memorial service Saturday presided over by the Rev. John Eure, pastor of Ash Avenue Baptist Church.

Some 175 mourners gathered at the church, with the front five center rows filled by family members and the balcony taken over by news media covering the event. The family contingent included Brittany Smith, Tina Smith’s 12-year-old daughter, whose seven-day disappearance prompted a frenzied search effort that ended with Brittany’s return on Dec. 10 and the arrest of her alleged captor, 32-year-old Jeffrey Easley, after the two were found in San Francisco.

During the service the girl sat in the front pew next to her father, South Boston police officer Benny Smith. Dressed in black, she wiped away tears several times as Eure eulogized her late mother.

A table in front of the altar was adorned with a wooden urn holding Tina Smith’s cremated ashes; an American flag memorializing her military service was folded flat to the side. Rounding out the arrangement were Christmas poinsettias, candles and angel figurines; as he offered words of comfort to the family, Eure stood beneath a Nativity scene mounted in the church riser.

“God can heal you. But God’s healing is not instant. Sometimes it can take a lifetime,” said Eure, the sole speaker at the service. He recalled Smith’s involvement in the church and her service to country and community and declared: “We don’t want to define Tina by how she died, but we must address that.”

He described Smith as someone who was a “gift” to all who knew her, even if “sometimes we didn’t know how to handle the instructions with the gift,” added Eure with a smile. Smith had “a heart of compassion, especially for those who were down and out,” but she also had “a character that could frustrate you’: Eure called her an “imperfect being.”

As are we all, the pastor continued:

“Just because we’re imperfect beings does not mean that God doesn’t love us. And just because she had some unique qualities certainly doesn’t mean that she wasn’t a person worthy of love.

“For that was probably one of the things with Tina that was most difficult — sometimes it was so easy to always give out the love, maybe without really realizing how to handle the love back, or perhaps not always making the wisest decisions because her heart was so big,” Eure said.

Smith was found dead at her Salem home on Dec. 6; police have identified Easley, her boyfriend, as a suspect in the homicide. Smith moved to Salem from South Boston four years ago after the break-up of her marriage; she struck up a relationship with Easley after meeting him over the Internet.

Taking note of the season, Eure called Christmas “a time when we are reminded about hope, so when we come today and we understand how Tina died and with her murder, [it] becomes especially hard.

“But let me just qualify from the very beginning, that even though this is part of the story of Tina’s life, it is not the whole story of Tina’s life,” he said. “For there are things today that she needs to be remembered for, and the murder should not define who she was.”

Eure lauded Smith’s career in nursing, her military service, and her love for friends and family, especially for her two children, Brittany and Tyler. Tyler died accidentally last year in a choking game; during one of the service’s musical interludes, photographs of Tina Smith flashed against the wall. One photo showed her skydiving in memory of her late son.

“Tina left her mark. And she left her mark on you by how she loved and how she cared,” said Eure.

Before moving away from town, Smith was an active member of Ash Avenue Baptist, and Eure remembered fondly the knit shirt that she presented to him during an ice cream Sunday at Ash Avenue. He also drew a laugh from the audience as explained how Smith “left a distinguishing mark” on the church — a stain on the carpet in front of the pulpit.

Eure explained that one Sunday, Smith gave the children’s sermon and decided to bring an egg to show how it couldn’t be broken at certain pressure points.

“Unfortunately one of our kids just heard, ‘You can’t break an egg’ and he said ‘Yes I can’ and he took both hands” — Eure made a clapping motion — “and that’s the mark right down there.

“Even our best carpet people had difficulty getting [the egg stains] up,” he continued, smiling.

The pastor mused that Smith’s military training may somehow have played a role in keeping her daughter safe during her time of captivity. “Perhaps God used something with that [Smith’s training] to help bring about a miracle that we saw Friday a week ago when Brittany was found and we heard that she was coming back home,” Eure said.

“Perhaps some of those things that she learned may have helped her to survive that past week she was away, and maybe, perhaps God used some of that as well as the prayers of his people to help bring her home safely.

“I think if Tina knew that, she would be well pleased,” Eure said.

Citing Christian teachings, Eure said it would be essential in the future for the family to contemplate what it means to forgive — never to forget what was done to Tina Smith, he said, but someday to move beyond it.

“It means we let go. I think forgiveness is a gift from God to help us to let go of the things that hold us down, or the people that hold us down.

“When we let go of it, it says, ‘Lord, I want you to take the lead of my life and help me through this difficult time. I don’t want someone else to control my life by letting me harbor bitterness or everlasting anger.’

“You see, forgiveness is more for your benefit than the one who violated you.”

“And it may not happen overnight,” Eure said. But he pledged that help would follow as the family comes to terms with Smith’s death:

“This morning, I want you as a family to know, that the church, and the churches and the community love you, and we loved Tina, and we’re praying for you and we’re not stopping.”

Following the service, Smith’s remains were interred at Halifax Memorial Gardens.

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