Cover photo for Shelby Joy Smith-Sanclare's Obituary
Shelby Joy Smith-Sanclare Profile Photo
1939 Shelby 2023

Shelby Joy Smith-Sanclare

September 12, 1939 — June 2, 2023


Shelby Joy Smith-Sanclare was born to Howard and Delores Smith at the St. Joseph Hospital in Albuquerque on September 12, 1939. She is survived by daughter, Whitney Mayrhofer (husband Philipp and their children Aemilian, Gabriel, Jonas, and Zoe); Sherron Smith-Davis, sister (John Brown, partner); and Krysta Martinez, niece (Johnnie Sanchez, partner), their children, Isaiah (Jessika, wife, and Jaxson, son), Dominic (Maddie, wife, and Asher, son), Devon, Johnathan, and Nicklaus.

Shelby was many things to many people. Mother, sister, aunt, friend, partner, advisor, coach, teacher, professor, and an inspiration. She cherished the simple things in life, such as cooking and enjoying good food and entertainment, just spending time and talking with people close to her, her cats, feeding the birds in her back yard, and nurturing her many plants.

Her heart remained in two places on the last journey in her life: with her daughter and family in Austria and her love of New Mexico and the people and places she cherished where she was born and raised. She was a doting grandmother to her expanding Austrian family, seeking every opportunity to visit Austria or to host the grandkids in their visits to New Mexico and the rest of the U.S. She loved sharing in—or at least closely following from afar—each of their lives and activities. Shelby spent much time with her sister and family in Albuquerque and enjoyed the many get-togethers and festivities and being part of the developments surrounding her niece´s children.

Shelby also had an unstilled passion for creating a better place for us all to live in. As a visionary, she was driven to launch many projects in a multitude of fields, and in so doing touching each of our lives in a special way.

The natural and physical sciences, first geology, then biology, followed by environmental science, enthralled Shelby throughout her entire life, starting as what she herself called “a backyard entrepreneur” to teaching biology classes in her early 20s to later helping to set up medical research laboratories to working on briefings for the Surgeon General to teaching courses in the environmental sciences.

She especially enjoyed advising—and in many cases—inspiring young female students. Shelby’s having earned a PhD as a single mother during a time when such achievements were uncommon attracted the attention of young women at the Universities of Georgia and New Mexico in addition to younger colleagues at the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico. When participating at conferences and giving lectures, other women readily sought her counsel. 

Shelby was the lead author and editor of the first environmental impact statement for Los Alamos National Laboratory. She also helped coordinate mid- and long-term site planning at that U.S. Department of Energy facility.

At the Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters, Shelby was Assistant to the Head of Environmental Planning in Norris and Knoxville, Tennessee.

At the University of Georgia, she was an Assistant Professor in the School of Landscape Architecture, where for 2 years she taught undergraduate design students as the first woman ever to serve on the faculty.

After her position at TVA, she continued her career in helping others achieve their professional goals by providing advice as a life coach. This was a natural progression from counseling young women seeking advanced academic degrees. For example, one of her first clients as a life coach involved helping an anesthesiologist who had developed a health problem that made it impossible for him to withstand the physical demands of the operating room. She assisted him in targeting his transitioning to a less physically stressful position as a radiologist.

Shelby worked in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a consulting environmental planner for the Indonesian Ministry of Public Work. She developed environmental plans to satisfy local government needs and documentation to satisfy demands of various domestic and international sponsoring agencies working on development projects. 

In looking at her 83 years of life, we experienced a woman who nurtured a true patchwork of interests and passions beyond her education and work life.

Cats: Shelby was a loving mother to adopted kittens wherever she lived, including bringing precious Berani and Cantik from Indonesia to her successive homes in Tennessee, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. Since being in NM, she had mothered several cats, and her last Ché accompanied her until just shortly before her own death.

Cars: She was also a classical car purist, inheriting her sports car habit while in college (and fed by her father’s standards) —including but not being limited to having been a member of a sports car club and attending shows—and carrying her passion through to insistence on stick-shift transmissions in each of her cars, all the way into her last living year. 

Ice skating: A great passion from her youth, also being member of the Ice Capades, she was a very skilled figure skater, which later received public recognition while serving as Maid of Cotton. While she had abandoned the sport in her young adulthood, she often reminisced and shared this common interest with her Austrian granddaughter.

Theater, creative writing, art: Her creativity started at an early age by being active in plays on and behind the stage, loving dance and taking part in a troupe, assisting in writing songs for stage productions when she was a young woman, and enjoying writing everything from poems to stories throughout her life, painting and sculpting.

Public relations spokesperson and model: In addition to possessing many different creative talents that she could exhibit with aplomb, Shelby proved herself as a gifted student and was honored for her acheivements throughout college and graduate school at the University of New Mexico. This combination impressed the American Cotton Council and Shelby was selected to serve as the National Maid of Cotton in 1962, all while in graduate school. During this year, she was a PR spokesperson for the Council, holding dozens of interviews and traveling the world. Her photos were published in leading fashion magazines, all promoting cotton clothes. 

Books and reading: An insatiable thirst for expanding her horizons and opening her mind and heart to the world fueled a great passion for the written word. Her house was adorned with alcoves in every room that might remind one of a small library; a collection of various treasures that accompanied her life´s journey. She read, and she read with joy, until her last days: natural sciences, landscape planning and plants, art, Native American history, fiction and non-fiction of all kinds, philosophy, psychology, coaching, books of spirituality and the metaphysical. One might hear her say, as Cicero once wrote, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

While Shelby experienced many hardships and health issues over the years, she always had a strong willpower to make the best out of her situation and never lost her sense of humor. Be it at work, with family, or friends, she will be remembered by many for her perseverance and a witty comment to top it off. It is with great sadness that the family of Shelby announces that she passed away after a long illness on June 2, 2023.

Mom, grandma, sister, aunt, friend, we will miss you dearly.

To order memorial trees in memory of Shelby Joy Smith-Sanclare, please visit our tree store.


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