Brenda Jones-Smith, a former Woodland school district leader and veteran aide to California lawmakers, died July 1 of pancreatic cancer, her family said. She was 69.
Mrs. Jones-Smith blazed a trail as an African American elected official in predominantly white Woodland for 16 years. She was active in civic groups for many years and had deep roots in Yolo County, where her great-great-grandfather, Alvin Coffey, settled in the 1850s after buying his family's freedom from slavery in Missouri.
"She was from Woodland, and everybody knew everybody in town," said her niece Carol Elswick. "She just thought more could be done for children."
Mrs. Jones-Smith served on the Woodland Joint Unified School District from 1977 to 1993, including three stints as president. She held leadership positions in the California School Boards Association, the Yolo County School Boards Association and the Coalition of California Black School Board Members.
Meanwhile, she worked for more than three decades in state government, including 25 years at the Capitol.
Besides working for state Sen. John Dunlap, Assemblyman Mel Levine and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, she spent 16 years as a senior legislative consultant for state Sen. Diane Watson.
She served on the Senate Commission on Teacher Quality and a legislative task force on abuse of children and students.
"She was deeply concerned about every aspect of developing policy," Watson said. "She lived her commitment and faithfully carried out her duties in a caring way."
Brenda Louise Earl was born Feb. 19, 1944, and raised in Woodland.
Her mother, Emma Earl, was a domestic and cannery worker. Her father, Orra Earl, owned a janitorial business and urged his daughter to pursue education and be of service to others.
She graduated from Woodland High School in 1961 and attended a business college in Riverside. She worked in the UC Davis Student Affairs Office before joining state government in 1975.
She served on the boards of the Woodland Volunteer Bureau, Woodland Senior Center Inc. and Planned Parenthood of Sacramento Valley. She was active locally in the YMCA and Soroptimist Club.
A Rocklin resident, she was married since 2000 to Rubeun Smith. A previous marriage, to Willis Jones II, ended in divorce.
Mrs. Jones-Smith was proud of her Woodland roots and family history.
Besides a written account of Alvin Coffey's arrival in California, she treasured a photograph of her great-grandmother, Susannah Earl, with famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth.
She traveled with her family to Michigan, where another great-great grandfather, Amyntus Earl, settled after buying his family's freedom from slavery in Kentucky.
"We learned where we came from and what struggles they had to go through," said her son Phil Jones. "We were all raised to feel like we could accomplish anything."
Besides her husband, Mrs. Jones-Smith is survived by sons from her first marriage, Willis Jones III of Santa Rosa, Phil Jones of New York, and Anthony Jones of Woodland; stepdaughters, Tiffany Smith-Simmons of Elk Grove, and Whitney Smith of Houston; a sister, Adel Sims of Indio; and three grandchildren.
A service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Kyles Temple AME Zion Church, 2940 42nd St., Sacramento.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.