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Local Colonel Dies Suddenly

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Moreno Valley

Melva E. Nicholson Brown-Smith, CNM, MSN, a Full Bird Colonel Air Force died suddenly at Kaiser Hospital in Riverside on Monday morning.

Smith is the wife of Col. Ralph Smith (Ret.). She was admitted to the hospital on Friday after complaining of stomach pain. The cause of death is pending.

According to Frank Benjamin, a family spokesman, Col. Smith was one of the most recognized midwives in the nation. Her skills were in demand and she spent much of her time with difficult deliveries in Los Angeles area hospitals.

Col. Melva Nicholson Brown-Smith was born on September 26, in no year that she was willing to acknowledge in Kingston, Jamaica. Her parents came to the U.S. to work on a farm after answering an ad in a local paper.

It was a husband and wife team. They worked in New Mexico for six years. Smith and three siblings remained in Jamaica with a guardian while her parents worked and sent home money to take care of them.

When her mom got pregnant things changed. The child was not wanted by the farm owners and they asked her to get an abortion.

She refused and they moved to New York City where the family was reunited, obtained legal residency and subsequently citizenship. Five more children were born.

“My mother and father didn’t believe in welfare so she worked one job and he worked two jobs to make ends meet,” Smith once said. Being the oldest in the family meant she had to see the children off to school and to daycare.

The early influence of the Seventh Day Adventist Church was evident because from an early age she wanted to be a medical missionary. She knew financially she could never afford to become a physician. But, one way she could get into medicine was to become a nurse.

Following graduation from Atlantic Union College, an Adventist school located in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, she was accepted at both Loma Linda University and UCLA. Again the religious influence won out she chose Loma Linda.

“Soon I had exhausted the school loan program and needed more money to remain in school. That is when I heard about the military program that picked up my senior year,” said Smith.

She had enrolled, and was committed to five years of military when tragedy struck. Her mother died as a result of a car accident on her way to Smith’s graduation at Loma Linda.

Smith worked at West Point for 2-1/2 years before going to inactive status. After completing her obligation in 1970 to the Army she worked as an O.B. Instructor for the New York Department of Health Services and for the Veterans Hospital.

After two years in the civilian sector, Smith returned to the military to take advantage of fulfilling her dream. This time it was the Air Force. Finally, her goal of becoming a Flight Nurse and Midwife was in view.

She became the first Black nurse to graduate from the Flight Nurse program and before she could fulfill the assignment she was accepted in the Midwifery program at Andrews AFB.

Upon completion she was assigned to Omaha, Nebraska. Tired of the cold weather she and her first husband transferred back to the Inland Empire. She was stationed at March AFB and was one of the first two Midwives assigned there.

That lasted for five years. In 1980 she went back to Reserve status and served as Chief Nurse of the 445th Air Force Reserve Clinic at Norton AFB. It was at this time she completed Command and Staff College and came up through the ranks.

In 1990 she retired from the Air Force Reserve but is on staff at Daniel Freeman Hospital, Martin Luther King Medical Center and is a Midwifery Clinical Instructor at Charles Drew University.

Col. Ralph Smith is a prominent community leader who is best known for his work on the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee. Smith has also been involved in the Moreno Valley community for several years.

Funeral service is scheduled for Thursday, February 13, 11:a.m. at Kansas Ave. Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Handling the service is Atonement Memorial, 24226 Sunnymead Blvd, Moreno Valley, CA.

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