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Adele Smithers, ‘godmother of philanthropy,’ dies

Philanthropist Adele C. Smithers, shown at the Adelphi

Philanthropist Adele C. Smithers, shown at the Adelphi University commencement in 2008, died Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, of complications from Parkinson's disease. She was 83. Credit: Patrick McCarthy

Adele C. Smithers, a woman known as a dynamo in the world of philanthropy whose efforts were groundbreaking in the area of alcoholism research and treatment, died Monday night in California. She was 83.

Smithers had been living in Mill Neck and traveled back and forth to California to be treated for Parkinson’s disease, complications of which led to her death, said her son, Christopher B. Smithers. She died at a hospital in Santa Monica, surrounded by family members, he said.

‘‘My mom touched a lot of people’s lives,” said Smithers, of Mill Neck. “She was my best friend; she was the kind of person you could rely on.”

After the death of her husband, R. Brinkley Smithers, in 1994, Adele carried on the work of the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation into the research and treatment of alcoholism. Christopher D. Smithers was the father of R. Brinkley Smithers, said foundation spokesman Jerry Schmetterer. The foundation was founded in 1952.

At the time of her death, Smithers was chairman of the family foundation, based in Mill Neck, Schmetterer said. One of the guiding principles of the foundation is that alcoholism is a disease from which recovery is possible, according to its website.

Smithers was described in The New York Times as the “godmother of the new style of philanthropy,” noted Schmetterer, explaining that Smithers was “aggressive, determined and a real activist.”

Schmetterer said that Smithers got involved in the 1960s working with the National Council on Alcoholism, where she met her future husband. R. Brinkley Smithers was an executive at IBM, the groundbreaking computer company his father helped create, Schmetterer said.

Smithers was born to an Italian immigrant family of seven children. In the early 20th century, the family settled in what was then known as Little Italy, in the East Harlem section of Manhattan.

She served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1954, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. She was stationed for a time in the military in the area of Malibu in California, a place to which she was attracted later in life, said her son.

One of the affiliated units of the family foundation is the Smithers Center, a well-known rehabilitation facility in Manhattan that has treated a number of sports figures such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, as well as the late author Truman Capote, her son said.

Expounding on his mother’s activist approach to philanthropy, Christopher Smithers said she was not content to just write a donation check.

“For my mom, it was an unbelievable sense of wanting things to be done the way they should be done,” he said. “She understood that if she gave money, she should have a say in wherever she was giving money to was doing, and she was always vehement about that.’’

Smithers had numerous philanthropic connections, including the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence where she served for a time as vice chair, the North Shore Boys & Girls Club and the Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club of Locust Valley, where she was a member of the board of overseers, according to a list provided by her family.

Schmetterer said Smithers also was treated at the Adele Smithers Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Center in Old Westbury, named in her honor.

In addition to her son, Smithers is survived by her daughter-in-law, Nikki, and four grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. March 4 at Trinity Church in Roslyn.

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