In Memorium: Rhona Smit

Rhona 007

On Friday 20 June 2014 Rhona Smit passed away at the age of 81.

Rhona had been a Scientologist for 60 years and worked for LRH. In the last year she became acutely aware of the issues facing Scientology internationally and thoroughly researched them. She made contact with long lost friends who long ago left the church. In her final months she contributed several articles to this blog and was deeply aligned to what we are trying to do: Allow Scientologists to get back in comm.

Rhona’s passing is representative of a reality we face: A diminishing number of people who knew LRH personally. It is of vital importance that their stories be preserved.

A private memorial will be held on Sunday the 29th of June. If there is anyone reading this who wishes to attend, please email us on

Following is Rhona’s obituary.

Rhona was born in Springs in 1933, eldest daughter of Gwendoline and Bill Earnshaw. She had one brother Mac and two sisters, Linda and Dianne.

She completed the first three years of school in fifteen months. At the age of 10 her grandmother paid for her to learn the piano and she took  formal lessons, doing both theory and practical for four years.

When the high school she attended was closeby the government for an indefinite period because of a polio epidemic, her parents enrolled her in a private commercial college.  Here she learned secretarial skills and began work for a chartered accountant at the age of 15.

In her late teens she became a Sunday school teacher in the Methodist church and made the decn to get confirmed.  The minister who performed the confirmation ceremony was later one of the accused in the notorious treason trial of 1956.

When she was 19 she made the decision to go overseas and worked in the day at her secretarial job and at night put on gum boots and a white coat to work in the factory, earning extra money to pay for her overseas trip.

In June 1954, the year she turned 21, she went to England with the intention of spending a year on a working holiday.  She discovered Scientology within the first week of being in London.

During the first year in London before finally joining staff at the London org, she landed a job doing a PR caper for one of the leading London newspapers and as a result traveled some 2,500 miles throughout England and the Isle of Man.  She worked as a secretary to one of London’s leading theatrical agents Al Parker and accounts highlights such as taking dictation from Richard Attenborough. She had other interesting interactions with Jack Hawkins, Diana Dors (Britian’s Marilyn Monroe) and  Trevor Howard among others. 

Rhona then decided to do the Hubbard Professional Auditor Course. Several months later she resigned from her PR job, and joined staff  at the London org as secretary to Jack Parkhouse, the Association Secretary of the London org. She met L Ron Hubbard in the same year when he arrived in London to deliver the 4th London ACC.

And so began Rhona’s long journey in Scientology.

Rhona is well known for her many interesting tales about her experiences with LRH , and at the time of her passing was in the process of documenting her memoirs and life with Ron. She tells of many anecdotal incidents like trying to find ice in the middle of winter in London for Ron’s Coke, and locating a tobacconist that stocked his brand of cigarette. She was assigned the task of buying linen and other household paraphernalia for the impending arrival of Ron, Mary Sue and their children to London.

In 1956 when Ron went back to the US, he offered Rhona the option of travelling to South Africa to open an org there, which he later postponed and invited her to join him in the US instead.  She departed the UK in October 1956 aboard a small cargo ship in charge of the Hubbard family’s gear (including Ron’s Jaguar), and arrived in New York. From there she caught a train to Washington org and helped supervise the 15th ACC.

Returning to London org a few months later, she was assigned the task of conducting a Bachelor of Scientology Course. It was back in London that she met and later married her first husband, John Swinburne. Ron made several trips back and forth between the UK and US. Rhona had many a tale of her interactions with him over those years.

Rhona Fitzroy Street 50s Rhona Fitzroy Street 2010s

Rhona had the rare privilege of attending all the lectures of the 15th Washington ACC and all the lectures of the 5th London ACC. She also attended lectures at Congresses in London and Johannesburg.  She attended many lectures LRH delivered in Washington DC and London apart from ACC lectures. 

Rhona both audited LRH and was audited by him one-on-one in 1956. During the course of the 15th Washington ACC in 1956, Ron audited Rhona as a demo. He told the watching students he could tell by the flippancy of her answers that she wasn’t really in session.   In 1957 she was part of the audience at the Radiation Congress when he delivered group auditing.  In 1958 during the 5th London ACC she had a number of hours auditing from him on a one-on-one basis. 

Rhona was also personally trained and drilled by Ron on the TRs.  Ron told her that she was the only staff member he could do this with.  He had tried to do it with the Dir Training and decided he couldn’t make it so he chose Rhona.  Thereafter she was given the job of training the staff and the UK field on the TRs. 

In 1957 she was transferred to HCO (Hubbard Communications Office) and in 1958 was appointed as the first ever HCO Exec Sec WW by LRH. It was during this time she was asked to find a home for LRH and his family, and upon LRH’s return to London she showed him a brochure of the estate of the Maharaj of Jaipur which was about to be auctioned. Ron’s response to Rhona was “buy it” which she duly did. This was the birth of the International Headquarters of Scientology World Wide—Saint Hill. Ironically, Rhona never saw Saint Hill until 1976 when she went there to do her OT Levels.

Rhona not only worked for LRH, but also became his friend. She spent many evenings with him and Mary Sue at their home for dinner parties and other socials. She recounts one such visit where Ron, holding cards behind his back, could tell from various locations what card he was holding.

In 1959, by now 8 months pregnant, Rhona finally left London to join her husband in Australia where her eldest daughter Carol was born. The marriage only lasted a short while after that, and in 1960 Rhona returned to South Africa with Carol.

Throughout the years, Rhona stayed in touch with Ron. She has a number of rare hand-written letters from him.  At some point Ron awarded her the SHSBC for her years of dedicated work in Scientology. Unfortunately she never acted on this award. 

Rhona continued her dedication to and studies of Scientology travelling through to the Hancock Street Org in Johannesburg by train every day (she was living in Springs with her parents). In 1962 she met and won the heart of confirmed bachelor Mike Smit, who was running the PE . They got married and moved to Pinelands in the Cape where their daughter Shelley was born. Rhona joined staff in Cape Town org where she held the posts of HCO Exec Sec and Dissem Sec.

In 1965 Rhona and Mike moved to Port Elizabeth, where Rhona completed  another 2.5 year contract with the PE Org. During this time her third child and only son Andre was born on the 2nd April 1966.

Rhona, Mike and their 3 children returned to Springs early in 1967. Rhona dedicated herself to being a homemaker and raising her children for the next few years, in amongst odd job stints to compliment the family income. She became an accomplished seamstress and knitter, and learned to master her Empisal Knitting machine, churning out dozens of  garments for her family and friends. Her daughters, in stylish hand-made clothes, were quite the envy of their friends. She sewed all Shelley’s ballet costumes, sometimes making up to 18 duplicates for the whole troupe.

Rhona was an accomplished cook, and she became quite well-known for her flair in the kitchen. She and Mike hosted many dinner parties and guests would leave the house satiated with world class food. She also loved to bake, and especially enjoyed doing so with her grandchildren helping her.  Her famous Christmas cake, Pavlova’s and pineapple upside-down cakes were lapped up quickly. During this time Rhona also turned her hand to doing some writing (something she had become quite accomplished at) and a few of her articles were published in various magazines and newspapers.

In the early 1970’s Rhona assisted with many cycles on behalf of the Religious Defence League and was a key role-player in a number of successful  campaigns and projects. Around this time she was also travelling into Joburg by train with all 3 of her children to go on course at the Joburg Org which was now located at 99 Polly Street.

In the late 1970’s Rhona, Mike and family moved back to Johannesburg, and Rhona travelled to the UK to do her Solo course and visit Saint Hill for the first time since she had bought it all those years ago. Shortly after her return, she joined staff again, this time in the Guardians Office – Department of PR. Carol later joined the GO as well, and Shelley finally followed suit in 1978. She served another 5 year contract until 1981. By this time, Rhona had served in excess of 16 years working for the Church.

With her children growing up and becoming independent, Rhona returned to the working world where she had a number of jobs, including a sojourn at the Hubbard College of Administration.

In 1983 she became a grandmother for the first time when her eldest grandson Jean was born. Pierre followed in 1985 – both Shelley’s children. 

In December 1991, Rhona made another trip to Saint Hill and achieved the State of OT3.

5 years later in 1990 her 3rd grandson Jesse arrived, son of Andre and Debbie. In 1992 her only granddaughter Dominique was born, Shelley’s third child. And 21 years later in 2013 her 4th and youngest grandchild, Troy entered her life – son of Andre and Lindsay. She has 2 great-grandchildren Caleb (4, son of Jean and Kirsty) and just this year, 13 days before her 81st Birthday, her great-granddaughter little Mia was born – daughter of Pierre and Tanya.

Rhona was a dedicated wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. The wellbeing of her family and grandchildren were of paramount importance to her. She had a deep desire to help her family in every way she possibly could, and loved them all unconditionally. She treasured special moments spent with her family and ensured all her grandchildren knew how special they were to her. 

At the ripe old age of 78, Rhona joined staff yet again, part-time as the Letter Reg for Joburg Org. Sadly, she had to end her tenure prematurely due to suffering a minor stroke in August 2013. In total, she had served close to 20 years working for Scientology, in addition to many volunteer hours spent on other Church-related projects. Her lifetime of dedication to LRH and Scientology Technology never wavered.

After her recovery, Rhona embarked on a project of writing her memoirs, and rekindling relationships with people she had lost contact with over the years. She was very happy to find many old friends, and was excited about re-connecting with them.   

Rhona was a consummate professional in everything she did. She had many hobbies and interests, was an avid reader and had a keen interest in world affairs. She spent many hours recording a lifetime of memories through scrapbooking – one of her many hobbies. She never stopped learning new things and at the ripe old age of 80 was discovering the wonderful world of the internet and blogging.

Rhona was a warm-hearted, caring and compassionate person. She took great care to improve the lives of others around her. She touched the lives of everyone she met and was loved and admired by many. She also had a wonderful sense of humour and always tried to see the positive side of any situation she was faced with.

Rhona leaves behind a great legacy. With love an admiration, we bid her adieu. 

Go well, dear Rhona. 

Rhona 006


21 thoughts on “In Memorium: Rhona Smit

  1. Rhona, It was an honour knowing you for the briefest time in your legendary life. Farewell, I know I join your family in looking forward to meeting you again.
    I am very sorry for your loss Shells and family but wow, you guys chose to be part of Rhonas amazing life! How wonderful!

  2. Thank you so much Scnafrica for letting me (and all of us who didn’t know her) know about Rhona’s life. I wish I could come to her service, but I am in Phoenix, Arizona. However, I will be there in spirit…. fare thee well Rhona. This will be a better world because of you.

  3. She was a wonderful lady!
    Her family will miss her dearly, however she has left behind, a rich and beautiful legacy of so many things, especially love and kindness.

  4. I only got to know Rhona well during the past year and found her a wonderful and deeply interested lady, not to mention interesting to talk to. And God she could talk! It would be a tragedy if her memoirs are not published in some form. She should have been a celebrity of the local scn group, but of course having been so close to Ron that clearly could never be. She knew too much.

  5. My Dear Rhona
    I am so pleased you can start again with the
    knowledge you had from researching the Church.
    So looking forward to meeting up with you again in the future.
    She was a special being and LRH trusted her.
    She had some amazing stories to tell.
    A very feisty lady and she knew which side of the fence she was
    on – the side that supported LRH and protected his legacy
    lots of love Goldie

  6. Thanks for this beautiful article about Rhona. She was a special lady with a wonderful sense of humour. Love to all her family – she was a blessing in your lives. Go well Rhona, on this next part of your journey. ❤

  7. Thanks for acknowledging Rhona here. Farewell, and thank you for all those years of help to so many people.

  8. Pingback: In Memorium: Rhona Smit | brightfametexan

  9. What a beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss Shelley, but I am sure your wonderful memories and obvious love for your Mom will always be at the forefront – til you meet again!

  10. Thank you all for your wonderful words about my mom. My family and I will miss her very much, as will the many friends she had (and there were many).

    I had the rare privilege of having her live with me for the past 7 years, and consider myself fortunate to have had this precious time, even though it makes it all the more harder to say goodbye. She played a pivotal role in my life, and was particularly supportive over recent trying times as I made my way through the labyrinth out of the RCS maze.

    I am going to miss her presence so much – her keen sense of humour, lightness of being, unwavering loyalty to her children, unconditional love for her grandchildren and unbridled joy at becoming a great-grandmother. No matter who she came into contact with, she preferred to see the positive side of people and would do everything in her power to enrich those around her.

    My mom had an amazing memory, could recite just about every poem from Alice in Wonderland and often regaled her children and grandchildren with stories and poems from her youth.

    Just two weeks ago, she told me a story of how she was running around London in a pencil skirt and a brand-new pair of red high-heel patent leather shoes while doing some errands for Ron. At some point, her feet got sore so she left her shoes in friend’s flat where they got chewed up by the cat. This happened 60 years ago, and she could describe in vivid detail the clothes she wore, the errands she was on, the shops she visited and the things she bought.

    She leaves behind an amazing legacy and example for all. She epitomized “What is Greatness”, was nobody’s fool and held her own counsel. A rare gem indeed.

    On behalf of my family, we thank the many friends who have rallied round and supported us through this time. The out-pouring of love and support has been beyond belief and is further testimony to the wonderful person my mother was. Go swiftly mom.

    All my love, Shelley

  11. Shelley, the beautiful tribute you shared with us, via the OP, brought home just how special your mom was in so many, many lives. These occasions, when we have to say good-bye, serve nothing, if it were not for the realization that we are here to bring our love and service to others entrusted to our care. I feel your grief intensely, as you try to soldier on in the coming years without her wonderful presence. One does heal better though, knowing that there is another time, another game, following the one just ended. 🙂
    Love, Calvin.

  12. I was just getting back in comm with Rhona after 35 years and inspired by our recent Skype conversations. I will miss her dearly. She truly gave more than she took at so many levels.

  13. Pingback: Back in Comm: What it looks like | Scientologists back in comm

  14. A beautiful synopsis of her life. I realise she was not only a mother in law, but also a friend and someone who shared many years of my life, going back to my teenage years. And a special thank you, Rhona, for the gift of your daughter Shelley, whom I will treasure and love always.

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