Joan Smart

Joan A. Smart, a dedicated caseworker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who worked to ensure vulnerable kids were placed in safe  homes, died Sunday. She was 76.

Mrs. Smart went to work for DHHS as a caseworker in child protective services in 1979, working in Augusta until 1984 when she transferred to Portland. She retired in 1999.

Robyn Oliver, of Scarborough, reflected Wednesday on her mother’s dedication. Oliver said her mother traveled throughout the state to visit children who needed placements. She always made sure they had what they needed, especially at Christmas.

“She worked long days and on weekends. Whenever she was called upon, she would go,” her daughter said. “She made a big impact in the kid’s lives.”

Mrs. Smart was married to Robert Smart, who died in 2006. The couple raised two children: Oliver and Brian Smart of South Portland. They lived in Brunswick before moving to Scarborough in 1987.

In her early years, she worked as a social worker in the Portland School System. She then took a position at Three Bears Nursery School in Brunswick, where her children attended.

Oliver reflected on her mother’s seemingly effortless ability to balance work with home. When she worked in Augusta, she drove her kids to swim practice and cooked dinner every night.

“She never missed any sporting events for my brother and I. Somehow, she made it all work,” Oliver said.

Mrs. Smart was the same way with her grandchildren. Oliver chuckled Wednesday thinking of her mother on the sidelines cheering for the kids.

“She was outspoken,” Oliver said, laughing. “She would be cheering strong for them. She was always giving them advice too. She was so proud of the kids.”

Mrs. Smart volunteered for many years at St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Portland. She gave it up a few years ago for health reasons. She also brought books from the Scarborough Public Library to a veterans home.

“She always thought of others,” Oliver said.

Mrs. Smart was a huge fan of the Kentucky Derby and in recent years played poker with friends on Monday nights. She also played in a bridge group. Oliver said she loved spending time with family at Higgins and Scarborough beaches.

“She called me 10 times a day,” her daughter said. “I’d call her too just to check in. We would talk about each other’s day. She would call every day to check in on the kids. It’s going to be quiet without her.”

A celebration of her life will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State St. in Portland.

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