Valery Smith continued to care for injured birds right until the end of her life.
Smith, founder of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, passed away on April 23 at age 76 following a brief illness from cancer.
Executive Director Debbie Crum said Smith was the heart, soul, and backbone of the non-profit organization whose mission was to care for injured and orphaned birds.
“She continued to be active in the organization up to about a week-and-a-half before she passed,” Crum said. “I brought her baby owls and she was feeding baby owls until she couldn’t do it any more. It was one of the few times that we saw her smile during the time she was sick.”
Smith saw a need for animal rehab in north Mississippi and founded Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation - the only licensed bird wildlife rehabilitation site in the state - in 1995 using money she made through yard sales. She was a passionate advocate for birds and raptors and delighted in bringing ones in her care to local festivals, civic organizations, and schools to educate people about the importance of wildlife preservation and the need to protect their natural habitats.
Crum said Smith’s loss is a huge one in the wildlife rehabilitation community and one that will be felt not just in DeSoto County, but across the entire state.
“She trained and mentored most all of the wildlife rehabbers there are now in the state - even as far down towards the coast,” Crum said. “It’s not just DeSoto County. The whole state is rocked by her loss.”
Crum first met Smith when she joined Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation in 2019 to help rehab baby ducks.
“When I met her, it was like meeting a mother I never had,” Crum said. “I felt like I fit right in and she made me feel like I was welcome.”
Smith was honored for her work by friends and colleagues in 2021 with a surprise party on her 75th birthday where she was presented with a plaque proclaiming September 4 as Mississippi Wildlife Preservation and Education Day. A sign was unveiled at the Ark Trail near Arkabutla Lake marking the future site of the “Valery E. Smith Wildlife Hospital.”
Crum said they plan to continue her legacy and will not stop until they raise the remaining money to build the hospital and nature center. She said they are still writing grants but expect to have the hospital built by next year.
“We made promises to her that the center would get built and we’re going to keep it,” Crum said.
Crum said Smith told her a long time ago that when it was time to go, she would go with birds in her hands.
“And she did,” Crum said.
Visitation will held on Friday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at Eudora Baptist Church at 9670 MS-304 in Hernando. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to Mississippi Wildlife. All donations will go toward building the Valery E. Smith Hospital and Nature Center.
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