PLEASE NOTE: This is an archive article from 1986. It may contain out-of-date information.
"Representative Gwynne Smith has been a true friend of the natural environment in the Delaware Legislature," says Grace Pierce, Delaware Audubon's president, "She was one of the authors and main supporters of Delaware's landmark Coastal Zone Act and has always been a guardian in the House on protecting the integrity of Delaware's coastal environment, sometimes in the face of some powerful opposition. The Delaware Audubon Society is very pleased to recognize her with the 1986 Delaware Audubon Conservation Award."
Representative Smith's work on behalf of the environment has spanned almost two decades and encompassed issues that affect our land, air and water. ("They're all intermixed," says Gwynne.)
We asked: Did Gwynne grow up learning to appreciate the natural world or acquire an understanding of its value when she was older? "Both," she replied. "I was born in Asheville, North Carolina. I was raised near mountains, and my family camped all over the mountain area, fishing and hiking. I was raised knowing what it ought to be like to be able to enjoy nature."
She married Dewey H. Smith in 1947; she was attending Sherwood Music School on scholarship while he worked on his doctorate at the University of Chicago. They moved to Delaware in 1950, where they adopted three children and now have six and one-half grandchildren.
Gwynne returned to school as a "mature student" and received her B.A. in 1971. Her sculpture has been in shows, and one work – purchased by the University of Delaware – is in the University's permanent collection.
During this time, she was active in the Green Acres Civic Association and the Green Acres Garden Club; she served on the State Board of the Garden Federation as the chairperson for environmental legislation and wrote the Bulletin's environmental column.
In 1969 she helped found the Delaware Citizens for Clean Air, serving through the years as vice-president and membership chairperson, and putting out its monthly newsletter.
In 1970, at the request of and guidance of Rep. Knox and Rep. Poulterer, she was part of a team that worked on what became the Delaware Environmental Protection Act. This was the first time that citizen-volunteers (non-legal) drafted a bill that later was enacted into law. The same team also helped with some of the wording of the Coastal Zone Act and the Wetlands Act.
Gwynne helped consolidate statewide support for the Coastal Zone Act, the Wetlands Act, the Delaware EPA and the Beach Land Preservation Act. She was an original member of the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board, and she served five years in that capacity.
Gwynne Smith was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974; she is now finishing her sixth term. Legislation she has sponsored includes the Preservation of Natural Areas, the Bottle Bill, the Check-off Fund for Natural Areas and Non-game Species, and acquiring and naming the Ted Harvey Wildlife and Conservation Area. Her current project is to assure money in the state budget to survey and remark the state boundaries. Some of the stones are the original Mason Dixon monuments which need repair and protection; others have been vandalized or lost and need to be repaired or replaced.
She has been a tireless proponent of reasonable environmental legislation and a strong spokesperson for the right of the citizen to be heard. At various times she has served on the Governor's Select Commission on Energy Conservation, the Water Management Advisory Committee, the Sea Grant Advisory Committee and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Committee. She was Chairman of the House Natural Resources and Agricultural Committee.
Gwynne has received recognition from many areas for her work: she has received the Coastal Zone Award from Watch Our Waterways; she has been honored by the Delmarva Girl Scout Council for her work in the "World of Out-of-Doors" (one of five areas of study in scouting); and she has been recognized by Delaware Today (June, 1973) as one of the Thirty Outstanding Delaware Women.
What does the future hold for Gwynne Smith? She turns the question neatly from her own concerns to Delaware's concerns. "I take things one term at a time. I think we all, as concerned citizens need to man the ramparts. Currently we are raising a generation of environmentally aware schoolchildren, but there is a generation gap between them and us, young adults coming into the area of decision making in this country but are not raised to be environmentally aware.
"If you're not in the legislature, there are still a lot of things you can do to advise us, or be a right-hand man to those legislators. There is an election coming up; people who care about the environment should make their feelings known. If you feel that you can help influence a candidate, or work with her/him, do it. Even if that person loses the election, the opponent would have to recognize that environmental support does play a role in government.
"I have always believed in the power of a group of persons working together to improve things, and that the skills we gather as we move along will be useful in some future project," Gwynne says. "I made up this saying for my children: ‘The Three Things – Any, Some and Every – Anything you do is built on Something you have learned before, so learn Everything you can.’"
Delaware Audubon salutes Gwynne Smith, a woman who has defended the rights of Delaware citizens to attend public meetings and be heard, and who has remained a strong steadfast spokesperson for the health of Delaware's natural environment.
— written by Lynne Frink