SEQUIM — Distraught friends of Jeri Smith remembered her Tuesday as the face of the Sequim Valley-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce, a child of the town who extolled its virtues to residents and visitors alike and projected constant warmth and hospitality.
Authorities believe Smith, 68, a lifelong Sequim resident, died over the weekend by jumping off the Elwha River Road bridge and into the Elwha River west of Port Angeles, said Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy.
Search and rescue crews in kayaks and on foot and in a Coast Guard helicopter were unable to locate a body in searches conducted Sunday evening and Monday before they halted their efforts Monday afternoon. King said Tuesday that a body had not been recovered.
King said Smith had a recent history of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Community members were reeling at the news.
“It’s a horrible shock,” chamber Executive Director Shelli Robb-Kahler said Tuesday afternoon after a chamber luncheon.
“She definitely was the heart and soul of the chamber.”
Little else was on the minds Tuesday of those who knew Smith, whose full name was Jerilyn Lorraine Smith.
“If you knew Jeri at all, you were shocked about it,” Ellen Swears, a volunteer at the Visitor Center run by the chamber, said Tuesday.
Smith was friends with Robb-Kahler’s older sister when her sister and Smith were at Sequim High School several decades ago.
“We’ve lost a very important member of our community,” Robb-Kahler told those attending the chamber luncheon.
“Normally, you would see her today at the luncheon, so we miss her dearly, even though many of us have far more questions than answers right now, and our hearts are all breaking.”
Smith, a member of Dungeness Community Church, had “a very deep and strong faith,” Robb-Kahler told lunch participants.
“She was very diligent about that, and I know she wouldn’t want us to mourn for too long, and she would want us to celebrate her life.”
Robb-Kahler said later that Smith was a stay-at-home mom while her children were growing up and later was a sole proprietor, with her husband, Ron, of his construction business.
“They were very much involved in the Pioneer Association and Grange and all things Sequim,” Robb-Kahler said.
Family members did not return calls requesting comment Tuesday.
Jeri, a grand marshal of the 2009 Sequim Irrigation Festival, was chamber office administrator, retiring after 17 years but returning about 18 months ago to volunteer her time, Robb-Kahler said.
Swears, a Visitors Center volunteer for about 12 years, said Smith was the go-to person for inquires about Sequim, a town has grown in the last decade into a commercial hub.
“If you had a question, you asked Jeri,” Swears said.
Smith also led the chamber between executive-director tenures.
“She was very helpful and very supportive and always went to bat for businesses,” Robb-Kahler recalled.
“She just had that wonderful, kind and compassionate part that everybody loved about Jeri.
“She was very quiet, but like I said, she was always supportive and always upbeat, and if anyone was having a bad day or a volunteer was having a bad day or had some unfortunate thing happen or a member was struggling or something, she was always that constant source of support, and had a this-too-will-pass kind of attitude,” Robb-Kahler.
Smith had an everything-will-be-OK kind of mentality, Robb-Kahler said.
“She never judged anyone and never had harsh words about anyone,” Robb-Kahler said.
Smith believed in people’s goodness to their core, which she expressed in a favorite saying.
“She would just walk away and say, bless their bones, or if she felt bad for someone or saw they were struggling or had an unfortunate situation happen, she would often say, bless their bones.
“That was her way of blessing them.”
Paul Gottlieb is senior staff writer at the Peninsula Daily News. Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Sequim Gazette. Both are part of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]. Reach her at [email protected].