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Elizabeth (Betty) Gazda-Smith

May 18, 2021

Betty (Gazda-Smith) beloved wife, mother and grandmother.

After a life-long hard fought battle with autoimmune diseases and their complications, Betty passed away on May 2, 2021 at her Sanibel condo. Preceded in death by her parents Joseph and Rose Gazda. Survived by husband Jerry Smith, son Matthew Smith (Maggie), daughter Rachel Mullin (Jonathan), grandchildren Cole Mullin, Kieran Mullin, Rosalie Smith, Leona Mullin, brother Thomas Gazda and sisters Dianne Gazda and Christine Kramer (Christopher), and many nieces and nephews.

Born in Minneapolis in 1957 and raised in St Anthony Village, Minnesota. She started her career in medicine at the early age of 16 working in the research labs at the University of MN. Betty graduated valedictorian Totino Grace High School in 1975. She worked multiple jobs while taking a full course load and put herself through college graduating summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1979 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology with minors in behavioral biology and biochemistry. She spent one summer session at Itasca Biological Station where she met her soulmate and love of her life who became her husband Jerry.

They married in 1979 at Kings House Buffalo Retreat Center, Minnesota. Betty graduated with an MD degree from University of MN 1983. It was still early in the days of women in medicine as physicians and quite a few times she ran into sexist comments and discrimination but she never let it get to her, or dissuade her from her goals. It was particularly challenging having 2 children during her medical training years. She completed her Internal Medicine residency program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 1986. She was Board Certified in Internal Medicine 1987.

She went into private practice in internal medicine at Professional Associates of Internal Medicine in the Medical Arts Building, downtown Minneapolis. Betty then went on to become a Medical Director at Prudential life insurance company, promoted to Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Individual Life Insurance. She became Board Certified Insurance Medicine 1995. She gave speeches all over the country, had a monthly newsletter “Rx for Success”, and had a regular column in Broker’s World Journal. Betty was active in the Twin Cities Medical Directors Association, Midwest Medical Directors Association, American Academy Insurance Medicine and ACLI Medical Section. Betty became self employed as a medical consultant, she was CEO of her company Elizabeth Gazda-Smith MD Inc., providing life insurance medical consults to Allianz Company.

Retired for health reasons after 2014. She battled autoimmune disease most of her life with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, small vessel vasculitis and severe rheumatoid arthritis with multiple complications. She courageously fought back to health after a respiratory arrest put her in a coma in 2014 that left her completely paralyzed. It took her 7 months of physical therapy and hard work just to stand up again. Betty’s friends often commented that she was an inspiration to them and encouraged her to write a book to tell her story.

Betty had many outside interests. Her favorite role was being “Nana” for her four grandchildren. She became a therapy dog team with her Siberian Husky, Oso, certified through Pet Partners. She volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis and was active in North Stars Therapy Animals.

As Betty became more disabled she expressed her creativity through art. After the coma, her attention to detail changed, particulary with nature. Colors became vibrant and brighter. As part of her meditation therapy she began with small zentangle drawings. Then rapidly progressed to mixed media and canvases. When she became completely bedridden she continued to paint, laying flat in bed, and by pinning her elbows to her side she would literally paint with a canvas above her face. It often turned out that the more pain that she was in was expressed as a more vividly colorful piece of art. She became a professional artist in 2019, with her prints being displayed at Joy and Company Gallery in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

For Betty, art has been a journey that has transformed her mind, body and spirit into the art that she created. For her it was a joyful and uplifting experience. She started a weekly art group in her home in Sanibel. Teaching friends new techniques in art medias there would be new project completed every Friday afternoon, and she showed people to open themselves through art. The group often called themselves, the “glue and gab friends” as there was as much friendship and creative collaboration and laughter as there was the finished art piece. She was very prolific. In approximately two years, she created well over 300 original pieces of artwork. Sadly to say in the last nine months of life she was so disabled that she could no longer create art, but she still enjoyed looking at art every day. Unfortunately, before her death the website for her art business could not be created.

Betty also loved to travel and besides visiting almost all 50 states, went to Canada, Mexico, Costa Rico, France, Italy, England, Scotland and Wales. She wished there had been more. Betty and Jerry were frequent visitors to Sanibel Florida before buying a condo there in 2010 and thereafter she was a happy “snowbird” spending her winters on the beach shelling and feeling the sea breeze on her face and the sand under her feet. She was an avid gardener especially tending to her rose gardens, herb garden and heirloom tomatoes. Her favorite spot in the backyard was in the gazebo with the waterfall running watching the birds come in for a drink.

She loved hiking especially the state parks along the North Shore seeing all the waterfalls. Betty was a great cook and enjoyed preparing small dinner parties and was known for sending along home baked goodies. Other interests included reading, knitting/crocheting, sewing, Sudoku/Kakuro puzzle and jewelry making. She was always interested in learning something new.

On May 17th Betty’s ashes were placed in the Gulf of Mexico where she will be at home and at peace in the sea and with the dolphins. Celebration of life gatherings are being planned in Minneapolis this summer, and in Sanibel next season.

In memory of Betty’s life, the family asks that any charitable donations be made to the Arthritis Foundation or Ding Darling Wildlife Society.