Obituary: Barbara Smith Pomerance

Obituary: Barbara Smith Pomerance

The ultimate caregiver, cheerleader, adviser, connector, strategist, humorist, performer, entrepreneur, friend, mother, wife and grandmother, Barbara Smith Pomerance, died on March 24, 2023, after a five-year battle with lung cancer. She was 75.

Barbara Smith Pomerance
Barbara Smith Pomerance

The ultimate caregiver, cheerleader, adviser, connector, strategist, humorist, performer, entrepreneur, friend, mother, wife and grandmother, Barbara Smith Pomerance died on March 24, 2023, after a five-year battle with lung cancer. She was 75.

Born in Lyons, Ga, she grew up in neighboring Vidalia, home of the sweet onion, and as befit her extraordinary career in public relations, shipped bags of onions to anyone on her it list, leaving a trail of sweetness and fanfare wherever she went.

But onions were only the beginning for Barbara, who focused relentlessly on the sweet amid the bitterness, and especially as she fought cancer. “Here’s to the bittersweet,” she said in a toast at her brother’s wedding more than 50 years ago, a saying that became a family joke but ultimately defined her.

Laser focused on others, she paid great attention to making them feel seen, supported, and special. After she passed, dozens emerged with nearly identical stories – about how Barbara asked about and recalled every detail of their lives to uplift, love and care for them. She thought constantly of how to help others and practice “tikkun olam.” And she seemed to possess superhuman energy and drive for productivity. The ultimate insult was to tell Barbara she looked tired. Her children joked that she considered napping an hour of weakness.

Unsurprisingly, Barbara made a career of putting others first. As a communications executive, she launched her clients with innovative promotions, partnerships and strategic tactics that earned outsized media coverage.

A steel magnolia, Barbara was so fierce that she navigated the old-boys network of auto dealers as p.r. director of the Washington Auto Show, the largest public show in D.C., elevating it to a world-class, tier-one auto show as the industry’s public policy show. Only Barbara could pull off an event that drew the president of the United States and cabinet members as well as pop culture icons like Herschel Walker and Snooki. And she charmed them all.

“I loved the game of life,” Barbara said with a smile, as her life was ending. “That’s my story … I loved the ride, and I was boosted by it.”

Like Nancy Drew, a favorite childhood character, she approached challenges like a sleuth, from canasta with Atlanta friends to gaming Delta’s SkyMiles system or boxing out anyone who might steal The Washington Auto Show – even after she moved from Rockville, Md. to Atlanta in 1987, she commuted for nearly 30 years for the show, making it, like her, a force to reckon with.

She could do it all. And she could do it in heels, racing home from work to assemble a perfect dinner or whisk her daughter to the mall for a quick excursion.

Barbara’s star first rose in Vidalia, where she flourished even as she stood out.

When her teacher called on children to relay their church’s Sunday sermon, Barbara shared the weekly Torah portion her Bubbe taught her when she heard her teacher announce: “Hebrew.” Barbara earned every badge as a Girl Scout Brownie and graduated (much to her competitive chagrin) salutatorian from Vidalia High School, where she excelled in speech and drama and perfected a mean impression of Phyllis Diller. “Do Phyllis Diller!” her father would exclaim, beaming as she summoned an outrageous cackle from her diaphragm.

Barbara attended the University of Florida, where she studied broadcast journalism (inspired by Barbara Walters), performed at Gator Growl, served in Angel Flight, and channeled her caring exuberance as rush chair of Alpha Epsilon Phi.

It’s also where she met her husband of nearly 54 years — a law student named Leon Pomerance, so gob smacked by her he proposed on the second date. She declined.

But the summer after she graduated, Barbara wed Leon, the love of her life.
She wore an unstructured sack of a gown remarkable only for its wide, square neckline. A dress consultant surveyed Barbara’s figure and determined she should showcase her neck, an anecdote she relayed with her exquisite ability to laugh at herself. In photographs of her wedding day, an ethereal crown of pink roses adorns her face and white lace frames her luminous décolleté, which was, like the rest of her, breathtaking.

She birthed both children without any balm – afraid to tamper with any drugs that might harm them.

And when she fought cancer, she refused to take enough pain pills, claiming her threshold was high and changing the subject. Really, she traded comfort for presence. She didn’t want to miss anything.

And she didn’t. She celebrated everything. When Barbara became a Delta million miler, despite an ancestral fear of flying she overcame, she tried to host a party in the Delta Sky Lounge or hangar announcing: “Barbara is a million-heir!” Delta said they were proud of her but denied the request.

When her daughter first menstruated, Barbara picked her up from middle school in a car full of balloons, prompting carpoolers to ask about the achievement – and her daughter’s lifelong loathing of helium.

Barbara designed swag for every vacation and gave her children legendary birthday parties – for example, recording commercials at a colleague’s radio station where 10-year-olds made great use of inappropriate sound effects. Her children’s friends gleefully joined Barbara’s escapades – photo Opps with the Chippendales at a 1980s beauty expo, curbside seats at a wrestling match for a sleazy mattress client and manning booths for TEAM Georgia, a safe driving coalition, at Atlanta’s sporting venues. Of TEAM’s original 17 chapters, only Barbara’s endured. The Barbara Smith Pomerance Collection documenting her expertise is housed in the Event Management and Marketing Archives at George Washington University.

But her most impressive feat was the courage, will, faith and grace Barbara demonstrated in her last five years. Through surgery, radiation, chemo, immunotherapy, and the countless pills she kept track of to keep alive and to offset the side effects of each of them, she never complained. She smiled through it. On her last trip to the E.R., she urged her daughter and son-in-law to go out for dinner.

She remained present, intuitive, connected to others and increasingly to G-d and funny as ever.

“Make sure Leon gets my Delta SkyMiles,” she said. And when an orderly took her meal requests the night before she died, she asked for “the works” for breakfast and said, with a smile, “I guess they think I’m going to make it until lunch.”

“Friends and family first,” she mumbled to her family, who initially mistook it for “French fries” – her personal kryptonite. She shook her head and uttered her last words: “Be selfless.”

She lived the definition of holiness – to make the mundane meaningful – and her children aim to honor her legacy: to help more, love more, include people, be present with them, and be selfless.

She leaves behind her husband, Leon Pomerance of Bethesda, Md., brother, Richard (Sandy) Smith of Marietta, son, Mitch Pomerance (Hilary Flynn) of Boston, daughter, Rachel Pomerance (David) Berl and grandchildren, Talia, Josh, Benjamin, and Eden Berl of Bethesda, Md. She also leaves a colossal network of generations of, as she put it, “friends like family,” so that her children’s friends are her friend’s children. She cultivated these relationships so diligently that her spirit lives among them.

Barbara was a longtime member of B’nai Torah, where she served on the board, as well as Beth Tefillah. And she was involved in Atlanta Scholars Kollel, Temima High School and Leadership Sandy Springs.

Donations may be made to a fund in her name for early detection of lung cancer at Lungevity.

read more: