In Memoriam: Ghislaine Geneste Smith

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by Christiane Palpant

Ghislaine Geneste Smith spent the last twenty years giving her heart and soul as a faculty member of l’Alliance Française d’Atlanta.  After ninety-six years of nearly perfect health, she passed away peacefully on September 12, 2021.  Ghislaine loved teaching French and her students of all levels knew it.  In addition to teaching the difference between passé composé and imparfait, Ghislaine upheld rigorous rules of respect, perfect attendance, attention to detail, voice projection, and grammar recitals until errors were resolved.

Born in Paris, France in 1925, Ghislaine recounted the devastation of World War II on her city and the country she loved dearly.  Her stories were heroic, even though she would not have thought so, including the time she helped deliver a baby on a bombed-out train.  After the war, she took a courageous journey alone across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Atlanta, Georgia with one suitcase and hope for a new life.  Ghislaine bravely knocked on the door of a downtown French restaurant and the owners graciously took her in until she could find a job at Crawford Long Hospital where she could use her medical skills garnered during the war. 

After marrying and raising four children in North Carolina, more than fifty years later Ghislaine once again arrived in Atlanta to begin teaching at Alliance at the age of seventy-five, an age when most people have long given up work.  She arrived early for each class, dressed professionally, and was always adorned with her signature pearl necklace, but she certainly did not act her age.  Ghislaine had the zest and energy of someone decades her junior.  Students double her four-foot ten frame ran to keep up with her rapid pace through the halls of Alliance.  She was also well known for her spritely dancing at the annual Soirée Blanche. 

The French parties at the end of each semester were always a class favorite knowing that Ghislaine would bring her famous Crème Caramel dessert.  As she would dramatically flip the cake pan, her eyes would sparkle, and her laughter would bubble over.  Ghislaine Smith not only superbly taught French, but she also taught valuable life lessons of character, courage, and joie de vivre.  She is greatly missed.