Kate Mary Smith was a significant business woman in Queensland’s history, giving her name to the KM Smith funeral business, now over 130 years old. She was a true pioneer in an era when women pursued domestic duties or worked in factories. Born in Ireland in 1847, she emigrated to Australia with her brother in the 1860s.
Kate Mary, a Catholic, and her husband John, an Anglican, arrived in Brisbane in 1874. Through their respective churches, they were able to make extensive social and business connections, despite living in poor circumstances in Fortitude Valley. John often applied his cabinet making and carpentry skills to produce coffins, subsequently becoming an undertaker. Following his death in 1886 Kate Mary took over the business, learning all aspects, including how to embalm bodies. This was especially remarkable as women of the time rarely attended funerals.
Kate Mary made the company uniquely her own, changing the business name to Kate Mary Smith Funerals. She closely monitored all aspects of its operations and insisted on quality service. The company continued to develop as times changed, and was an early mover from horse drawn hearses to motor vehicles and the now popular white hearses. Kate Mary was a generous supporter of the church and the Mater hospital. Strong and determined, she has been described as a feisty woman who did not suffer fools gladly. These qualities saw the company flourish, despite the hardships of World War 1 and the depression. Personal tragedy also continued to strike: by the time of her death in 1932, Kate Mary had buried four of her six children.
KM Smith has now been in business for six generations and has a long established heritage and reputation. While there are many successful business women today, Kate Mary Smith’s entrepreneurial spirit was an inspiration in her time, and still lives on today. Kate Mary built her business through astute networking and meticulous attention to detail. Families knew that they could trust her to provide personal and dignified funeral arrangements. Interestingly, her personal brand was so strong that it was often said at the time: “If you’re not buried by Kate Mary Smith, you’re not going to heaven.”