Maj. Chanquale Jefferies worked with Jacquelyn Smith for only a year at Aberdeen Proving Ground. But in that time, Smith became both Jefferies’ go-to person for tough engineering questions, and the person she would chat with at length about family, personal goals and problems in the world.
“I grew very close with Jackie and I would almost call her my work auntie,” Jefferies said. “She had that warm and welcoming personality, and whether you were asking her something about work or just something on a personal standpoint, she gave you that impression that she cared and she really wanted to help you.”
Jefferies and others who worked with Smith at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Edgewood campus are struggling with her loss after the 54-year-old was fatally stabbed early Saturday when she rolled down her window to help a panhandler in East Baltimore. Smith’s co-workers remembered her as a dedicated worker whose strong faith rippled through her work life.
Smith worked for Huntington Ingalls Industries, where she was a contractor for the Department of Defense. Most recently, she served as a contractor for the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, which provides biological and chemical defense equipment to the military.
A systems engineer, Smith worked for one of the group’s five project offices — a team of about 109 she joined in October 2016 — where she focused on engineering analysis, development and support of system designs for chemical and biological labs for the defense department.
“Immediately she fit right onto the team, was a terrific addition at a critical time when we were starting development,” said Lt. Col. Sean McMurry, a joint product manager for Smith’s office. “She solved difficult problems with confidence and ease.”
McMurry said Smith became an integral part of the team, and she was always ready to offer innovative solutions and ideas.
“She was dedicated to the mission and supporting the customers because she really wanted them have quality solutions and products,” McMurry said. “Those are the things as a supervisor you want from every one of your employees.”
Phyllis Brown, an engineer who worked alongside Smith, said they were close, and she lamented that their time together was cut short. She said she tried not to interrupt Smith at work, but enjoyed swapping stories with her about their sons, and discussing their mutual aspirations to write more.
“Everybody really respected her and respected her work,” Brown said. “The work that she was doing was very tedious and required a lot of concentration.”
But as dedicated as Smith was to her work, she was also the first to make sure everyone in the office signed a birthday card when the team would gather to celebrate a co-worker, McMurry said.
Smith’s love for her family and her deep faith were evident to her colleagues. Jefferies recalled a time when her friend was in hospice care over the summer. She said Smith was one of the first people outside her family she wanted to tell.
“She took that time to go outside and pray with me and pray for my friend,” Jefferies said. “With her faith, I got to see someone that was genuine in their faith and not just talking it but living it.”
Before her death, Smith’s company was preparing to recognize her accomplishments in the office at an award ceremony. Smith will receive the award posthumously at the ceremony in mid-December.
“The team as whole is really struggling with this loss especially as tragic as it was and how sudden it was,” McMurry said. “We’re gonna miss her immensely, and the team and the organization is gonna have to fight to go through this grief process together.”