Beth Smith had been an incredible force for good in countless lives before her shock death at the age of 31 - now her family and many friends are ensuring her inspiring legacy goes on by undertaking a series of charity challenges around the world in her memory.
Maths teacher Beth, from Halifax, died suddenly in November from a blood clot after she had been recovering from injuring her back at the gym a few weeks before. Her sister Jeni Harvey explains that Beth had just started to get back on her feet when she developed a high temperature and was struggling to breathe.
Beth went for a Covid test but after she returned home she was still struggling to breathe and her husband Ian called an ambulance. Tragically, before paramedics arrived at the house she had already died.
Jeni says: “I had been in touch with her about 5pm that day and she said she was feeling dreadful and had a Covid test booked. About four hours later, I got a call from my mum to say she had died. It was just horrific.”
It transpired Beth had died from a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot in the lungs which had initially developed in her leg when she was injured.
After training as a primary school teacher at York St John University, Beth had worked at several Halifax primary schools and in 2014 joined White Rose Maths, a specialist organisation dedicated to developing maths education whose video lessons were used by thousands of young people as schools were closed during lockdown.
Her work took her around the world to places like Beijing and following her death, White Rose Maths described how she had been central to developing schemes and materials “used and loved by hundreds of thousands of people in 140 countries”.
Their tribute described Beth as a “vivacious and endlessly positive character whose sudden passing has left a big hold in the hearts of all who knew her... a brilliant team player, Beth quickly earned the love and respect of her colleagues for her kind, selfless nature and her total commitment to the team and its work”.
Her passions also included amateur dramatics and inspiring young people to participate in local theatre.
She memorably took the lead role as Tracy Turnblad in the musical Hairspray at the Victoria Theatre in Halifax while she also wrote an annual pantomime performed in the town.
“She was a sunny person who was the life and soul of the party and was very well known in Halifax because she was really heavily involved in amateur theatre,” says Jeni.
“Her funeral in normal times would have been huge but we were only allowed 28 people.”
Prior to her death, Beth and her husband Ian had been through the devastation of three miscarriages, including the tragic loss of their daughter Poppy at 19 weeks. Jeni says Beth was helped with her grief by Huddersfield-based charity Talkthru and posted an emotional open Facebook post describing contacting the organisation’s counselling services as “the best choice I have ever made.”
Jeni explains: “She posted about what had happened to her and how her counsellors at Talkthru had turned her life around and made her realise it wasn’t her fault.”
An online fundraising page set up by Beth’s family around the time of the funeral raised over £5,700 for the charity including Gift Aid, but then her friends and family set themselves the ambitious target of raising a further £10,000 for the charity in Beth’s memory by November 2021.
Calling themselves ‘Beth’s Beavers’, they have committed to a vast range of challenges from her husband Ian and his work colleagues doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge, to others living off minimal rations for a week, running a 50-mile ‘ultramarathon’ around the hills of West Yorkshire and doing a skydive.
Members of the group have also been organising coffee mornings, quizzes, a danceathon as well as a sponsored kayak in the Lake District. One of Beth’s friends now living in Australia even completed her first-ever half-marathon which took place through the night and finished at sunrise.
Jeni explains: “Lots of her friends have done different things that are big to them. One gave up alcohol for three months, one ran every day for a month.”
Their collective efforts mean that the £10,000 fundraising target has already been surpassed five months ahead of schedule. The group hope they can continue to raise as much as possible.
Jeni says reaching the target had been incredibly emotional. “We couldn’t believe we had hit the target. We just wanted to do something and £10,000 seemed so ambitious,” she says. “We are just so grateful to everyone who has participated and everyone who has sponsored us.
“We know whatever we raise, nothing is going to bring her back. That is the hardest thing. You feel so helpless and we just wanted to do something in her memory. We didn’t think it would take off in the way it has. The overwhelming thing is we just think she would be proud, we would love to have heard what she would say about it. I think she would have thought it was all a bit mad. But she was also a bit of a drama queen and I remember after she had died going to the supermarket and seeing a story about her on the front page of the Halifax Courier. She would have actually loved that.”
Support vital to charity
Money raised by Beth Smith’s friends and family is proving a “lifeline” to Yorkshire miscarriage charity Talkthru at a time when its services are in high demand, its centre manager says.
Jo Naylor says: “This is a real lifeline for us because we haven’t been able to do any fundraising activities during lockdown. Since lockdown our referrals have gone up by 50 per cent.”
She says many people have found miscarriages even harder to deal with in the past year or so because of Covid rules in many hospitals meaning women are finding out devastating news about their pregnancies on their own.
“It has been really quite traumatic.”
To donate, visit ‘Beth’s Beavers’ on the Virgin Money Giving website.
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