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  • Writer's pictureWilliamsburg Funeral Home

Gretchen Cole Smith 1953-2023

Gretchen Cole Smith, 70 years young, passed away on February 23, 2023 from complications related to Lewy Body Dementia. She leaves behind her loving family: her life partner and spouse of 46 years, Jan Stiefel, and her two sons Eli (Megan Townsend) and Dana. She also leaves behind her sweet rescue dog, Daisy, whose barking when in her yard has become incessant since Gretchen left her home in Wendell. We believe it is intended to protect Jan, the sole surviving member of her pack, and it manifests our anguish at losing Gretchen.

Gretchen was born the fourth child to Gwen and R. Ashton Smith and was raised in North Andover, Massachusetts with her siblings Ned (Hanne), Susan (Richard), Geoffrey (Vicki) and Stephenie. Her passion was the forest and the trees. She earned her PhD in Plant Pathology at Rutgers University after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She was a principal investigator for a nationwide forest health monitoring program assessing the impact of air pollution on the health of trees across the country. One of her proudest professional achievements was providing scientific data to support stricter air quality standards. Following her 25 years as a research scientist, Gretchen forged a new identity working with elders to access benefits such as Food Stamps and Fuel Assistance at LifePath and as the Town Clerk for Wendell, her hometown of 33 years. She also worked part-time over the years at Stewarts’ Nursery and the Wendell Post Office.

Her sons will fondly remember her for her playfulness, meticulous preparation for any eventuality, and her diligence in supporting their various sports and interests over many years. She made sure both her boys could ski and bike, helping Eli overcome his fear after a fall and many stitches. He will always cherish memories of her encouragement and support each summer during high school pushing him to train for soccer, through daily runs when she might bike alongside him or spontaneously tell him to get out of the car to run home from a few miles away. Dana will always hold dear the games of basketball in the backyard, having a worthy board game adversary, Gretchen’s words of wisdom that continue to show their value, and her unending love and support.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to the amazing staff at the Elaine Center at Hadley who cared for Gretchen with the utmost compassion in her last weeks as well as Ruth, Mary, Yvette, Sally, Prudy and Sharon for the time they spent with Gretchen keeping her company in her dementia journey as well as all the friends, neighbors and family members who checked in with us consistently to provide loving support. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Donations in Gretchen’s memory are suggested to the Lewy Body Dementia Resource Center, whose FaceBook page for caregivers to loved ones with Lewy Body Dementia provided invaluable support to Jan (750 West Broadway, Suite 2R, Long Beach, NY 11561 or, Dollars for Wendell Scholars (PO Box 232, Wendell, MA 01379) or the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust ( or 1461 Old Keene Road, Athol, MA 01331). Education and land stewardship were among Gretchen’s highest priorities.

Gretchen will be buried at Osgood Brook Cemetery in Wendell on a date yet to be determined in the spring at which time a celebration of her life will be held. To send online condolences, please visit

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