Teresa "Tita" Smith
Teresa "Tita" Smith

A young Teresa celebrating her birthday in 1952.

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Teresa “Tita” Smith spent her Sundays as a child wandering through orange groves and splashing in irrigation puddles at her grandfather’s orchard in Orange.

Times were much simpler then, and the town a lot smaller, but to Smith, the city retains that same charm today.  It’s part of the reason why she feels so passionate about Orange—home to five generations of her family.  “We are still a city that has a small-town feel and a great history of inclusion,” she says.

Smith’s passion for Orange earned her the 2022 Citizen of the Year award, which she received during Orange’s “State of the City” on October 6 at Chapman University.  She received the award from the Orange Chamber of Commerce for contributing a lifetime of service to the city.

Mike Spurgeon, who helped Smith get her start in city leadership by nominating her for the Orange Planning Commission in 1992, called her a dedicated preservationist who made well-researched decisions for the city.

“She never let the citizens down, and if anybody is deserving of this award, it’s her,” Spurgeon says.

Smith’s grandparents came to Orange in the 1920s in search of good weather and better opportunities, getting a foothold in the agriculture industry.  As a child through her grandparents’ business, she met people of Japanese and Latino descent, which planted a seed that would evolve into an interest in social science.

“I was fascinated to know people whose culture and lifestyle were different,” she says.

Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from the University of California, Irvine in 1970 and a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California in 1992.  Her education opened the door to leadership roles.  She and her husband, Bill, established a youth ministry group, as well as a young adult ministry group with Holy Family Cathedral.

She later took on the role as executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange County, overseeing the organization’s food bank and group homes, among other programs.

“It really opened my eyes as a hometown girl from Orange County with an intact family, who never in her life had to worry about something to eat or a place to sleep,” says Smith.

Then in 1986, she delved deeper into community leadership and helped establish the Old Towne Preservation Association.  The catalyst for forming the group was a turn of the century home on her block that was slated for demolition to make way for expanded library parking, Smith says.

At this year’s State of the City Address, Tita Smith (front, center with hat) received the 2022 Citizen of the Year Award.  Celebrating with her after the ceremony are (standing, back) daughter Angela Scott and son-in-law John Scott, (seated around table, from left) husband Bill Smith, brother Thaddeus J. Smith, sister Maria Smith, brother Fr. Christopher Smith, brother-in-law Mark Bright, sister Monica McPheeters, sister-in-law Kathy Smith and son Patrick Smith.

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The couple who own the home—Mark and Sherri Clemens—continue to show gratitude that Smith and others in the association came together to save their 1906 house.

“She deserves to be Citizen of the Year because she loves her neighbors as much as herself, and puts us first,” the couple says.

Her preservation work captured the attention of Spurgeon, leading to her appointment on the Orange Planning Commission, for which she served 12 years.

She was also elected to the Orange City Council in 2004, serving as mayor pro tem from 2009 to 2012 and mayor from 2012 to 2018.  She strived to support businesses, increase jobs in the city and make fiscally-conservative decisions to reduce the city’s deficit.

Additional honors Smith has garnered include the “Spirit of Old Towne” award in 2000, the “Volunteer of the Year” award in 2006, the “Commerce Award” in 2009 and the William T. Glassell award in 2011.

Smith, who still sits on the board for the Old Towne Preservation Association, expressed gratitude for the chamber honoring her as “Citizen of the Year.”

“I am very humbled, but also excited because there are a lot of people who can take credit,” she says.  “And having family here for five generations, this is an honor not just for me, but for all of them.”

Article Published in the
Nov / Dec 23 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Melissa Pinion-Whitt Photo by Grant Romancia
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