Barbara Lee Smela

Born 8/21/1935
Detroit, Michigan

Died 1/21/2023
Costa Mesa, California

Details of services
There will be no service.

Barbara Lee Smela, age 87, died Saturday, January 21, 2023 while under hospice care in Costa Mesa, California. She was born in Detroit on August 21st, 1935 to Robert S. and Charlotte (Van Dine) VanHook who predeceased her along with a younger sister, Nancy.

After raising a family of five as a young mother she began a busy life of words, travel and curiosity when she completed her undergraduate education at Wayne State University in Detroit in only two years. From there she completed her doctoral studies at the University of Michigan where she also taught political science, statistics and worked at the Institute for Social Research. She was also a passionate supporter of her Michigan Wolverines.

Her career as a professor continued when moved to Burlington and  joined the Political Science faculty at the University of Vermont in the mid-eighties. She was then recruited to the Office of Research at the United States Information Agency in Washington, DC where she worked on international projects for the USIA and the DEA.

She traveled the world providing U.S. Embassy support while authoring a number of publications. A fluent Spanish speaker, she specialized in Latin American affairs which led to the next chapter in her life when she joined Discovery Communications at its original headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. While there she helped the company expand to the Latin American market as its Director of International Research. During that time, she also served as president of theAmerican Association for Public Opinion Research in 1994.

She moved to Manhattan in 1998 and worked for Audits & Surveys Worldwide where she co-authored Travel in Latin America, a comprehensive study of travel data on the continent.

Retirement saw her move to Carlsbad, CA where she fulfilled a dream of living by the ocean, enjoying the beach, the restaurants, researching her family’s genealogy and the proximity of her daughter Karyn and grandchildren Nicolette and Gabrielle who lovingly provided care for her in her final months for which the entire family is grateful.

Barbara loved travel, reading, music and sharing the world with everyone she met. She lived a full life that can be summed up with a quote from Pablo Neruda, a poet she long favored: “He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music, who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself, dies slowly.”

She is survived by her beloved brother Gerald P. “Jerry” VanHook and wife Pat of Taylor, MI, children Gregory Smela of Brandon, VT, Mark Smela of Pontiac, MI, Jeffrey Smela and wife Darlene of Indian River, MI, Christopher Smela of Fort Lauderdale, FL and Karyn Banner of Costa Mesa, CA along with many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

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