Ann Robb Smith, Episcopal priest and civil rights activist, dies at 93

Ann Robb Smith, 93, an episcopal priestess who lived her faith by serving some of Philadelphia’s most needy residents, died June 6 at her home in northeast Maine of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

“She had the courage to follow her beliefs regardless of what society thought,” said her daughter Laurie Parker. “It was more important to her to lead a life of integrity, a life of calling.”

Their actions were guided by their interpretation of the Christian doctrine “love your neighbor as yourself”.

“She broadened her view of her neighbor,” said Gay Smith, another daughter.

Rev. Smith was born into a privileged Main Line family and was one of three children of Henry Jr. and Gertrude Robb. Raised in Gladwyne, she excelled as a student at Shipley School and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

She later married her childhood sweetheart, Dr. Kaighn Smith and they had three children.

In the 1960s, Rev. Smith, who was inspired by progressive educators in her youth, became increasingly drawn to the growing civil rights movement and black Americans’ struggle for equality and justice. The women’s rights movement also became an important focus for her. She started volunteering and taking part in protests.

As an episcopalist, she was involved in the efforts of her local church to advocate equality and equality for women and people of color. This also included volunteering with Episcopal Church Women and Episcopal Community Services.

But over time, she became dissatisfied with her church and the response of some parishioners to the problems.

“They didn’t accept the causes of these social movements the way my mother wanted them to be,” said Parker.

At one point, Rev. Paul Washington, an activist episcopal priest who was a member of the historic Church of the Advocate in north Philadelphia, came to speak at her church.

Moved by Washington’s activism and leadership, Rev. Smith eventually switched affiliation to the Church of the Advocate, despite considerable opposition from her family and many in her community.

Rev. Smith viewed Washington as her mentor. The senior clergyman became an advocate for the ordination of women to the episcopal priesthood. In 1974 he opened his church for the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. Rev. Smith attended this ordination as a lay representative.

With Washington’s assistance, she enrolled at the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1991. By then she had won the support of many who opposed moving from her home church, and not a few attended her ordination.

For the next 10 years she served as the Assistant Pastor of the Church of the Advocate to Rector Isaac Miller and from 1996 to 1999 Dean of the Wissahickon Deanery.

During her tenure with the Church of the Advocate, she attended church services, as well as providing direction and assistance in services such as the church food kitchen, afternoon programs, and the Paul and Christine Washington Family and Community Center building.

Rev. Smith retired as a priestess in 2001 but remained in the attorney’s sacristy until 2009. She and her husband moved to Mount Desert Island, Maine in 2012.

In addition to her husband and daughters, Rev. Smith leaves behind her son Kaighn Smith Jr .; four grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; a brother; and other relatives. Her parents and one other brother died earlier.

A service in her honor was held on June 12th.

Memorial donations can be made to Friends of Acadia, 43 Cottage St., PO Box 45, Bar Harbor, Me. 04609.

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