PLUM ISLAND — Lois Smith — the venerable New York publicist for Hollywood royalty — helped launch and promote the careers of such celebrities as Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Rosie O’Donnell and Anthony Hopkins during her 40-plus years in public relations.
But today, she is being remembered for her leading role in Newbury and on Plum Island, where the straight-talking, yet unassuming woman came to bring as much passion to the Newbury Town Library and the future of the barrier island as she once did to her megastar clients.
Smith died Sunday from injuries sustained falling down a flight of stairs while on a weekend trip to Maine. She and her husband and former New York Times editor and writer, Gene, had traveled to Hebron Academy, where they were being honored for their fundraising work benefiting his alma mater.
The couple had followed the reception with dinner together at their favorite French restaurant in Maine, before returning to the bed and breakfast where they were staying. Smith, 84, fell during the night and passed away the next day from a brain hemorrhage.
Friends and fellow activists in Newbury said Smith was just as comfortable rubbing elbows at the Academy Awards, celebrating Robert Redford’s birthday at his ranch or donning her trademark red coat and red lipstick to walk the red carpet with a client as she was helping residents of Plum Island plant sea grass and put up snow fencing to protect beach properties from erosion.
“She didn’t get more excited when Robert Redford would call or I would call,” Marie Lojek, a longtime neighbor on Plum Island, said. “She treated everybody the same. ... In a crowd, she would just melt in. She wanted to be part of everything completely, not set apart. I think that made her life very full.”