Councillor, former Lord Mayor of Oxford and MP’s wife

Aged just 16 in the 1960s, a young Val Smith was hitchhiking from her home in Salford, Lancashire, to spend the summer in Bournemouth.

But the lorry she had been riding on with a friend was too smokey and so the pair asked the driver to let them off at the next town.

“He dropped us off at Christ Church Meadow,” Mrs Smith would later recall.

“I had never seen anything so beautiful. I fell in love with the place.

“We stayed in a B&B and found a job the next day. I’ve been here ever since.”

It was the beginning of a love affair with the city, and particularly the Blackbird Leys estate, that spanned six decades.

Mrs Smith’s political career saw her serve as a city councillor twice, from 1987 to 2005, and from 2007 to last year, including a spell as Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1999.

She was also a county councillor from 2005, serving at one stage as its vice-chairman, until last year when she stepped down from public life due to illness.

After her death she was praised as a “tower of the community” who council colleagues said held “great respect across the political divide”.

Mrs Smith was born Valerie Miles to an Irish mother and an American father. She was adopted at the age of three by Annie and William Lambert.

“I had a happy childhood” she said in an Oxford Mail interview.

“My school days were fine and I was good at English and history. My ambition was to be a kennel maid.”

Her adopted parents, both socialists, and her adopted father a “big trade unionist”, also proved important early influences.

She met her future husband, Andrew Smith, in a city pub.

Then a student at Oxford University, he was destined to become a Labour MP for Oxford East and hold cabinet positions in Tony Blair’s Government.

Mrs Smith said: “We got talking about politics, which I had always had a big interest in.

“There were other attractions as well, but Andrew and I were drawn together because we were the same kind of people.”

They married in March 1976 and have one son, Luke.

The couple lived together in Flaxfield Road, in the Blackbird Leys estate.

“I was born and bred in a city,” said Mrs Smith.“I come from the slums of Salford. An estate is my natural home.

“In fact if I don’t see a street light, I get worried.”

And in 1989 when Mr Smith stood down from his city council Blackbird Leys seat after 13 years, she stepped in to fill his shoes.

She quickly found a voice as chairman of the council’s housing committee and campaigned on issues such as homelessness and house building.

In 1999 she was elected Lord Mayor of Oxford.

It was a role that allowed her to meet The Queen and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

She became a supporter of Homestart, the Omerod School and the Alzheimer’s Society and was followed by an appointment as Sheriff of Oxford.

In 1999, she reflected: “I think I have been very lucky.

“I’ve had an odd life and wasn’t born in the best circumstances, but things have just fallen into place and happened to me and I’ve been very fortunate.”

After stepping down from her roles on both the city and county councils last September she said she had been proud to represent people in Blackbird Leys and The Leys.

Mrs Smith added: “It has been a wonderful experience representing such great constituents.”

Valerie Smith died peacefully on May 15 after a battle with cancer.

She is survived by her husband Andrew, her son Luke and her granddaughter Mirai.

A funeral will be held on Tuesday May 26 at 11.15am, at the Church of the Holy Family, in Blackbird Leys.