Rita Smith’s years of devotion as a missionary in Zambia

Rita Smith celebrating her 100th birthday at Whitefriars with sons, Malcolm, left, and Andrew
Rita Smith celebrating her 100th birthday at Whitefriars with sons, Malcolm, left, and Andrew
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A woman who has spent much of her life as a missionary in Zambia celebrated her 100th birthday with her family this week.

Rita Smith has been living at the Whitefriars residential care home in Stamford for the past five years.

Her birthday on Monday was spent with her sons Malcolm and Andrew but she enjoyed a much bigger family party on Saturday. Visitors included her younger brother, 90-year-old Norman Hart from Derby, the only one of her five siblings alive.

As well as a card from The Queen and family presents, Rita also received a piece of engraved glass from Whitefriars.

Rita was born in Surrey on February 25, 1913, the year the Panama Canal opened, Charlie Chaplin began his film career and the suffragettes were fighting for women’s right to vote. Her father was the manager of Waterloo station i and, unusually for girls at the time, she went out to work in a clerical position there.

She met her husband, the Rev George Smith, at a Christian Brethren assembly in Wimbledon and they married when she was 26, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. He served with the 7th Gurkha Battalion in India and was injured out of the Army at the battle of Montecassino in Italy. Four years later the couple moved out to central Africa, where they stayed for the next 52 years. In all that time they spent only three months in England.

Their son Andrew said his parents had been pioneers.

“There was just one Baptist Church in Zambia when they arrived but my father founded many, many more,” he said. “There are now hundreds of Baptist churches in Zambia.”

Andrew said his mother was often on her own with her young sons, living in the bush on the outskirts of the town of Ndola. “We had bush fires, there were lions around the house at one time - we had many adventures,” he said.

They later lived in South Africa where his father, who worked until he was 83, died 12 years ago, just 10 days before he and Rita were due to move back to England. Rita then lived in the Deepings area with her son Malcolm and his family until moving into Whitefriars.

She has four sons, Terry 72, Brian 67, Andrew 65 and Malcolm 60 plus 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Andrew said his mother’s longevity ran in the family - her own mother and two of her siblings reached the age of 99.

“She has been a fantastic mother, she is a wonderful and extraordinary person,” he said. “My dad was always incredibly busy so my mum brought up her four sons in often difficult circumstances. And Dad couldn’t have achieved what he did without her.”

Three of Rita’s sons are Christian ministers.