Jill and Boyd Smith
The glue that makes a community work
On a typical morning in Old Palo Alto, neighbors can spot Jill and Boyd Smith taking their daily walk — if they are up early enough. Outside by 5:30 or 6 a.m., the Smiths usually spend about an hour talking about the most pressing issues in their lives, whether it's family, church, business, politics or volunteer work.
That desire to communicate — and the built-in discipline to do it — has defined their 51-year marriage. They've accomplished much — their list of achievements could fill many lifetimes — but shy away from taking credit.
Jill, who punctuates her straight talk with a hearty laugh, instead sees herself as representing the great unnoticed sea of volunteers "who are never ... recognized for their service but who quietly take responsibility for doing what needs to be done, often one person at a time, to make our community a better place. They are the glue that holds our community together and makes it work," she wrote in a prepared statement.
From the beginning of their relationship, both Smiths have looked beyond their immediate needs, ahead to a future when they could focus on making that "better place." As young marrieds (and students) living in Utah, they set up a budget and stuck to it.
"Ten percent was ours, 10 percent was the Lord's" and the rest was for basics, Jill said, noting they kept track of every hamburger, movie, "every blessed cent."
But just before Christmas that year, they came across a Salvation Army bell-ringer and realized they'd left an important category out of their meager budget: charity. They then squeezed out $1 per month to give away, knowing that they'd increase it as they earned more, since charity was now a line item on their budget.
Another defining moment for Boyd came just after he earned his MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. As assistant director of the International Center for the Advancement of Management Education, he was sent around the world to speak with professors in developing countries.
"It exposed me to a much broader world, and I came back with a greater appreciation for America and what we had," he said.
Later he would take his whole family on a yearlong round-the-world adventure.
"I wanted my family to see the bigger world, to know that they are citizens of a greater world," he said.
As he worked his way up in the work world — as a cofounder and partner of WSJ Properties, a real-estate development and investment company — he took on more leadership responsibilities in the nonprofit world.
"We've had a philosophy that our time needed to follow our money. We didn't want to just give money and hope for the best," he said.
"Much of our money has gone to Stanford. Most of our time has gone to these other organizations," he added, pointing to the California Family Foundation (which funds Beechwood School in East Palo Alto), YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula, Avenidas, Community Foundation Silicon Valley and Children's Health Council, to name a few.
He has served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Stanford Associates; a founder of the Student Athlete Outreach Program that worked with at-risk youth from Belle Haven; and with Jill endowed the Housing Assistance program for families attending Stanford and the Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professorship Chair and Martin Luther King Jr. student scholarships.
As for Jill, her greatest time commitment was to the Roadrunners Sports Club in East Menlo Park, which started as a community basketball team and evolved into an athletic and academic program for college-bound youth.
"I didn't know how to administer, work on a (Silicon Valley) board. Boyd has leadership skills. I had mothering skills. I used what skills I developed and applied it," she said.
Jill's mothering skills came in handy at Roadrunners, where she guided boys from East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, sent most to St. Francis High School in Mountain View, took them on college visits — even tutored around her dining-room table. Today she refers to them — all graduates of colleges plus one technical school — as her second family. She keeps in close touch with the boys who've gone on to volunteer at Roadrunners, giving back to the next generation.
Always key to the Smiths' lives is their involvement in the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), where Boyd has served as a bishop for nine years and as stake president. When Boyd would devote 30 to 40 hours a week to a church commitment, Jill would scale back and teach just one class.
With their Roadrunner second family grown up and no major church assignment, the Smiths are spending more time restoring an old ranch in Idaho. In summer their five children bring their children — there are 20 grandchildren ranging from 22 years to 2 months — for a camp-like experience.
At 71, Boyd balks at the idea of retiring.
"I don't even know what the word means. I like working. It's fulfilling," he said, adding that he's spent the last five years as Northern California finance vice chair for Mitt Romney and continues to serve on the Hoover Institution Board of Overseers and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health board.
Jill just comes back to her earlier thought: "I just quietly go about doing things, not head of this or chair of that," like the people she described as taking care of others in the community.
"I want to represent those people, who take individual responsibility for doing that sort of thing."
Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at email@example.com.