Ann Robb Smith, 93, an Episcopal priest who lived her faith by serving some of Philadelphia’s neediest residents, died Sunday, June 6, in her Northeast Harbor, Maine, home from complication of Alzheimer’s disease.
“She had the courage to follow her convictions regardless of what society thought,” her daughter Laurie Parker said. “It was more important to her to live a life of integrity, a life of calling.”
Her actions were guided by her interpretation of the Christian teaching of “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“She broadened her view of who her neighbor was,” said Gay Smith, another daughter.
Born into a privileged Main Line family, the Rev. Smith was one of three children of Henry Jr. and Gertrude Robb. Growing up in Gladwyne, she excelled as a student at the 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, the Rev. Smith, who was inspired by progressive educators during her youth, became increasingly attracted to the growing civil rights movement and the struggle for equality and justice by Black Americans. The women’s rights movement also became an important focus for her. She began to volunteer her time and attend protests.
As an Episcopalian, she became active in efforts by her local church to support the causes of equality and equity for women and people of color. That included volunteering with the Episcopal Church Women and Episcopal Community Services.
But over time, she became dissatisfied with her church and some fellow congregants’ response to the issues.
“They didn’t embrace the causes of these social movements in a way that my mother wanted to embrace them,” Parker said.
At one point, the Rev. Paul Washington, an activist Episcopal priest affiliated with the historic Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, came to speak at her church.
Moved by Washington’s activism and leadership, the Rev. Smith eventually switched her affiliation to the Church of the Advocate, despite significant pushback from her family and many in her social circle.
The Rev. Smith considered Washington her mentor. The elder 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. The Rev. Smith participated as a lay representer in that ordination.
With Washington’s support, she enrolled in the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1991. By that time, she had won the support of many who had objected to her move from her home church, and quite a few attended her ordination.
For the next 10 years, she served as assistant pastor at the Church of the Advocate with Rector Isaac Miller, and as dean of Wissahickon Deanery from 1996 to 1999.
During her time at the Church of the Advocate, she participated in church service but also provided leadership and support for services like the church’s food kitchen, after school programs, and the building of the Paul and Christine Washington Family and Community Center.
The Rev. Smith retired as a priest in 2001, but she remained on the Vestry of the Advocate until 2009. She and her husband moved to Mount Desert Island, Maine, in 2012.
In addition to her husband and daughters, the Rev. Smith is survived by her son, Kaighn Smith Jr.; four grandchildren; eight great grandchildren; a brother; and other relatives. Her parents and another brother died earlier.
A service in her honor was held June 12.
Donations in her memory may be made to Friends of Acadia, 43 Cottage St., P. O. Box 45, Bar Harbor, Me. 04609.