Neighbors: Sheena Smith is flying high and relishing it

Sheena Smith’s mom died in 1996, but nearly three decades later she thinks of her each day and tries to live a life of service and focus. “Things she taught me still control me,” she said.

One of 10 children, Smith has lived in Bolton Hill since the 1990s and owns her house on the rim of Spicer’s Run in north Bolton Hill. She has worked for an airline for 21 years, 18 of them as a flight attendant. She worked from childhood at a snowball stand, selling the Afro newspaper and later vacuum cleaners door-to-door while attending college. “My father was so proud of me for being a go-getter,” she said. As an adult, she sold life insurance, worked as an EMT technician and at JHU Hospital.

In 2002 she became an “auntie mom,” raising two young nephews “because I could not imagine them living without the love my parents had given me. I love my big family.

“We were encouraged to find summer jobs and to work in our communities,” she said, “and I’ve always worked. I’m a ‘people person,’ and so I do best in jobs where I’m face-to-face with my customers or neighbors.”

She lived in east and west Baltimore and Park Heights as a child, graduated from Southwestern High School (closed in 2007) and attended Baltimore City Community College.

When a longtime mentor and neighbor, Ellsworth Johnson-Bey, had health issues, Smith tried to help with his recovery. Known as Brother Bey, Johnson-Bey was an activist who worked on social issues in Baltimore. “He was a dear friend, a great influence in my life and I tried to be strong for him.” Johnson-Bey, 75, died in September. “I miss him deeply.”

“For all the highs and lows, I wouldn’t trade any of it. I love my community and I love my job. It helps me keep moving,” Smith said. Her first years at the airline were in customer service, dealing with often angry and exhausted passengers whose flights had been delayed or had their baggage lost. “Talking to people I didn’t know, trying to help them solve their problems, listening and providing options. That’s what I’ve always done.”

When a friend encouraged her to apply for a flight attendant opportunity, she was dubious, but it worked out and now her seniority often enables her to choose when and where she will fly.

“It’s a great company, like family.” Now 62, she speaks of the airline’s founder and longtime CEO as wanting employees to “come to work and be yourself. Sometimes there is turbulence, but I love being in the mix, fixing things or at least offering options, de-escalating. You take risks every day,” flying to regional stops but also to Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii and “San Juan, my happy place.” At home in Bolton Hill, she cooks and entertains. She’s a new BHCA member.

–Bill Hamilton