Annette Jeanne Craig Smith, 61, known to most as Annie, began her journey across the Big River the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. Her daughter Ellie, brother Michael and trusted friend Eileen stayed close by to offer comfort to our redheaded Montana legend while she finally gave in to the vicious and painful beat down from esophageal cancer. While Annie may have lost the physical battle, until she could talk no more, she kept whispering, “Don’t worry, I’ll be getting better tomorrow.” She was not about to let the cancer inside her overcome her mind and spirit.
Annette Craig was born on Sept. 5, 1957, in Billings to Albert Steven “John” Craig and Sioux Ellen (O’Connell) Craig after a sister and then three brothers, but before four more brothers. Besides destined to grow heavily influenced by the presence of several smelly boys, all different from each other, Annie’s birthday was the same as her dad’s. She didn’t have to use that fact to her advantage often, but when she did, Craig boys better run and hide. As she grew, her independent spirit constantly baffled the nuns at Holy Rosary and the stream of would-be suitors at Lincoln Junior High. The thought of having to deal with her brothers certainly thinned the pool of boys brave enough to approach her.
Growing in a Catholic household overrun by mostly renegade boys, a dad that tired of renegades easily, a mom who worked evenings and weekends while rearing a small tribe and inspiring humility and spirituality, Annie was more at home climbing trees and wearing jeans than meeting feminine expectations of the times. In a home of 20-plus potato soup recipes and powder milk convincingly disguised as something drinkable, Annie developed positive characteristics that only improved as she grew. She made tom-boy appear sexy, sarcasm sound flirty, a green-eye glance emit intelligence, and a Dutch boy haircut look deliberate.
After attending Holy Rosary and Lincoln Junior High, Annie’s academic career was replaced with lessons of life, a comeuppance thrusting this creative soul into adulthood and parenthood early. Thank goodness it was Ellie Carmen (Craig-Chauvin) Suda, who jumped into our world from the union of Annie and John Chauvin, a fast-talking banjo-playing Cajun from south of Morgan City, Louisiana. Next, and single again, the Annie-Ellie duo grew in Somers and Kalispell. With her amazing work ethic, Annie became one of the better-known bartenders of Northwest Montana. While all things in life were secondary to her love for her family, Annie cherished her work and fishing and creating. She leaves in this world many things crafted to perfection with an Annie flair. Equally leaving her impression was her ability to outfish every person who dared to get in a boat with her or stand on the shore next to her.
Taking her bartending, fishing and artistry skills with, Annie, with Ellie close by her side, devoted her next several years to fishing partner Tim Fry and a roller-coaster journey from Montana to Alaska and back. The final chapter to Annie’s life was accompanied by Lindy Smith, a loud handsome fella who tried his best to give her a fishing challenge. All the while, Annie was always creating and sharing her talents. We would be remiss to not mention her culinary skills as well. Throughout her journeys, Annie always kindled a great love for her daughter and son-in-law Josh, grandchildren Bridger and Elise, and each of her seven brothers, letting them know at every opportunity. Importantly, Annie’s Sioux heritage from her mom constantly shaped her spirituality to find the good in each and every soul she encountered.
Annie was preceded in death by her parents, sister Linda Ellen O’Connell, brothers Randy, Larry and Patrick Craig, and Donald Knaub; her dear nephew, Allen John Craig; and all three of her life companions.
She is survived by her daughter Ellie and son-in-law Josh Suda; her grandchildren, Bridger and Elise Suda, the two reasons that fueled her strong will to live; her constant and devoted four-legged companions, Artimus and Cash; brothers, Mike, Tim and John (Sheila) Craig; and numerous relatives scattered throughout the land. Annie would insist that we include her friends as her family as well, and that we do. She left her unique mark in the hearts of many, and she had in her heart room for all.
The overwhelming sorrow that comes with the loss of Annie is perhaps tempered with her being out of physical pain. After 61 years of honing her survival instincts, Annie’s body fought to keep her spirit within. Her beautiful eyes spoke loudly as she finally let go. But, Annie, those projects will have to wait, you are beckoned to a destiny much greater than that you left behind.
Celebrating Annie’s life will occur sometime in late spring or early summer 2020. In the meantime, a potluck reception dinner at 4 p.m. with party to follow celebrating Annie’s 62nd birthday will occur Sept. 7 at the Elks Club, 1820 U.S. Hwy. 93 South, Kalispell.
Please direct correspondence to P.O. Box 2684, Kalispell, MT 59903.
Annie, we miss you like crazy and love you so much it hurts. We will never forget, in Mom’s words, love is forever.