Deborah J. Smyth, Debby to friends and neighbors, died in the early morning hours Wednesday,16 March 2022 in the ICU at INOVA Fairfax Hospital. Deborah just turned 72 years of age two weeks earlier. Debby was transported to Fairfax Hospital ED Monday morning, 7 March from her home in Winter Hill. She was diagnosed with SCC of the soft palate in December 2021 and began aggressive chemotherapy and radiation at INOVA Schar Cancer Institute in mid-January. Complications during the course of treatment ultimately led to her death.
Smythie, as she was affectionately called by her beloved students, was a gentle, generous, artistic soul. She was a poet, FCPS Master Teacher, editor, and tutor among other things. She loved to read, write stories and poetry (a true “WordSmyth”), cook, bake, refinish furniture, garden, play guitar, hike, and most importantly share all her talents and gifts with others. If Debby found a particularly interesting book, she would buy multiple copies and gift those whom she knew would enjoy reading it. Her triple chocolate walnut brownies were always a hit. Debby would often bake and deliver her treats to her dentist, and his staff! Italian Wedding soup was also a favorite of many of our neighbors. Deb would head out to Harris Teeter early in the morning to pick up all the necessary ingredients and spend the whole day cooking. After carefully doling out individual containers, we would drive around Winter Hill to deliver her homemade soup.
Born in Washington, DC, Deborah was raised in Arlington, Virginia. Her father passed away when Debby was only five years old. A WWII veteran, he spent more than his last year at the VA Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Debby and her younger brother were raised by their single mom with help from their maternal grandmother and aunt. She graduated from St. Thomas More elementary school and Bishop O’Connell high school, then went on to JMU majoring in Journalism and English. In 1987 she earned a master’s degree in English at GMU. She began her three decade teaching career in 1972 at Broad Run High School in Loudon County. Debby’s summers were spent teaching journalism workshops at University of Ohio, Amherst, Gettysburg, and Columbia University for high school student editors across the country.
Debby was involved in Girl Scouting for much of her life. Her summers as a camper, then CIT, and eventually counselor, introduced her to camping, backpacking, canoeing, playing the guitar, and singing, singing, singing,and singing. In those days backpacking meant the Appalachian Trail. As one lifelong friend explained, Debby’s tent was a rope between two trees with a Tube Tent strung between (imagine a plastic bag with both ends open)! If the thunderstorms didn’t leak into your tent, Debby’s was the one where the rope came loose and left her and her tent-mate in a puddle of water by morning. To this day the “ladies in green” kept in touch through reunions, emails, Facebook, and funerals. Her Girl Scout experiences helped Debby become the talented, compassionate leader and teacher that she was to so many.
From an early age Debby often shared deep and very profound thoughts with her friends. In one moment she would be so very serious, then she would do something silly or goofy in the next! She was known to pout and then laugh at herself, characteristics which lasted throughout her life.
Debby moved to the City of Falls Church in 1978 while continuing at Broad Run HS. In 1980 she began her career with FCPS and taught at McLean HS. She was tapped to be one of the pioneer teachers at TJSST, worked in FCPS administration (editor of The Red Apple), went back to teach a second stint at McLean, and finally ended her career with FCPS at Herndon Middle School. She was also a part-time instructor at Marymount University in journalism and taught writing at GMU. Debby absolutely loved teaching. Once retired from FCPS, and before continuing in education by tutoring Chinese and Korean students, she briefly worked at The Falls Church News-Press. Her last endeavor was working as editor on a memoir for a neighbor and friend. Unfortunately, she did not get to see this to its completion.
After her wake at Murphy’s Funeral Home (Falls Church) on Wednesday, 22 March, a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More. Debby will be greatly missed by friends and neighbors in Winter Hill, the children in our cul-de-sac, and the dogs and cats she “parented” with her partner of 32 years.
Winnie the Pooh was Debby’s favorite character. She lived by and passed on to others one of Pooh’s life’s lessons…”You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”