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Goodbye, Esther

By Jorge Casuso

December 3 – Esther Smicklas, mother of City Council member Pam O’Connor and one of Santa Monica’s most prominent civic personalities, died early Friday morning. She was 93.

Smicklas – who accompanied her daughter to public events and always sported a vest laden with colorful lapel pins – was close to many of the city’s leaders, to whom she dispensed advice on everything from pressing civic issues to what they should wear to an event.

The widow of a storied Chicago Police Detective and a staunch supporter of law enforcement, Smicklas – who moved to Santa Monica 12 years ago – never shed her no-nonsense, Windy City style or the hope that her beloved Cubs would win a World Series in her lifetime.

“We will always remember Esther for her gallant and indomitable spirit, her zest for life and for always providing unsolicited, straight to the point, advice,” said Mayor Richard Bloom.

“She was a very, very special person,” said Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. “She was police family, police royalty. She was very sharp, very witty, very knowledgeable.”

“She would tell me what events I needed to be present for, she told me when I should wear my uniform or a suit” Butts said. “There was not a time that I saw Esther that she didn’t have a piece of advice for me.”

Smicklas would visit the police chief and share the “voluminous” scrapbook filled with clippings about her late husband, Emil, who worked for four decades on some of Chicago’s biggest cases.

“There were hundreds” of clips, Butts said. “We went over every one. It was just a fascinating joy to me, seeing her and spending time with her. I will miss her terribly.”

A music lover, Smicklas was a fixture at the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Dance Series, spending every Thursday night in her wheelchair near the edge of the stage, enjoying the wide array of music – from Salsa and Hip Hop to Country and Swing.

“She’s probably one of the biggest fans of the Twilight Dance Series,” said Katherine King, who produces the concert series. “It wasn’t a normal night unless she was back there with all her buttons, pulling everyone aside and telling them all her Chicago stories.”

“She was a character,” said King, “a real piece of work.”
As befitting the mother of Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority Director Pam O’Connor, Smicklas never drove a car and used public transit to get around. She especially enjoyed Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus, participating in the “Bus Roadeos” as a passenger on the bus driven by her daughter.

A long-time proponent of life-long-learning, Smicklas was an avid reader who encouraged people of all ages to continue their education and enjoyed many hours at the Santa Monica and Los Angeles Public libraries. She regularly read the newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, and carefully followed the latest advances in space travel.

Smicklas was also an artist, drawing and sketching throughout her life.

Born in Kankakee, Illinois to Martin and Anna Block in 1911, Smicklas worked in downtown Chicago in the 1920s, 30s and 40s creating floral arrangements in florist shops in the Bismarck Hotel, the Palmer House, the Drake Hotel and the Blackstone Hotel.

In 1936, she married Detective Emil Smicklas, one of the most well-known Chicago detectives of his era. They raised a family in the city’s south side.

Throughout her life, Smicklas was involved in children’s affairs, including little league, and was a champion for youth and women.

Smicklas died at 3:30 a.m. Friday with her daughters – O’Connor and Tyke Caravelli – and her son-in-law, Alfredo Caravelli, at her bedside.

Smicklas is survived by her three children, O’Connor, Caravelli and Emil Smicklas Jr., six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Smicklas will be buried in Chicago.

In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to the Santa Monica Police Activities League and the Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library.

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