A candidate to smile about

Lois Severin of University City is hoping to make St. Louis — and beyond — a happier place by running for president on the ‘Smilocracy‘ party ticket.

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Perhaps like millions of Americans, you’re frustrated with the options (or lack thereof) in the 2016 presidential race. After all, both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump share the distinction of being among the least-liked candidates in modern U.S. history.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a candidate out there you could actually like, rather than voting against something, or someone, you hate?

Meet 81-year-old Lois Severin of University City, who is running for president on the Smilocracy ticket, a platform whose mission is to make the whole world smile.

“Basically, I am running for president to achieve global happiness,” said Lois, dressed in a hot pink duster and bright yellow socks with a giant yellow smiley face decal hanging on a cord from her neck. “I do have policies for ending wars, health care and other things. But my big goal is next year in Jerusalem to spread smiles to the Israeli and Palestinians and make a difference.”

In case you’re wondering, Lois is Jewish, and attends Central Reform Congregation. Passover, too, plays an integral part in this story, which I will get to in a minute. But before you go dismissing Lois as — how should we say? — more than a tad eccentric, give a listen because I promise this tale is stranger than fiction and more entertaining. 


As I alluded, it began at Passover in 2015, when Lois invited some friends over to celebrate the holiday. Among the guests was Matt Goodman, whose aunt had brought him to the gathering.

Matt, who is now 34, had heard some stories about Lois from his aunt, “which were curious to say the least,” he said. But he had no idea what to expect.

His first introduction was to her home, best summed up as a universe of the unusual. From its bright pink front door to dining room walls covered with vintage hats to homemade wallpaper featuring a collage of her male crushes, eclectic neither describes Lois’ unique style of decor nor does it begin to describe Lois. 

An octogenarian who still works full time as an office manager at Edward Jones, Lois’ colorful past would make Sophie Tucker blush. For starters, Lois enjoys young men as friends and collects them like trading cards, she tried out twice for the St. Louis football Cardinals cheering squad — at ages 50 and 51 — and lived for several years in a Volkswagen van with her three children. 

Those three children are now in their 50s and live in Venice, Calif., Boston and Philadelphia. Lois is a grandmother of two, and a widow. Her husband of 47 years, Phil Severin Jr., passed away in 2003.

Suffice it to say, Lois made an indelible impression on Matt that Passover night.

“She was simply ‘out of this world,’ ” he recalled. “She cooked, she cleaned, she served, she entertained, she danced and she made outrageous sex jokes. She was like a grandma on steroids, ‘groids,’ as I call it. She was awe-inspiring to watch.”

Seeing Lois in action, it dawned on Matt that perhaps she would be the perfect ambassador of Smilocracy. You see, Matt is the brains behind the campaign, which he had originally intended for social media.

“When I met Lois I realized I didn’t need a social media network to prove the power of a smile,” he said. “It was her interaction with human beings that crystalized that for me.”

Matt also explains that on that fateful Passover, he was down on his luck. His entrepreneurial ventures were flailing and he was having trouble with his business partners. So after he and Lois met, and soon began talking on the phone, he asked if he could move in with her to save money on rent.

“I said no,” Lois replied, matter of factly. But Matt, who looks like the consummate surfer dude, persisted.

Finally, after six weeks, she relented and allowed him to move in rent-free, at least for a while (they both would eventually like him to get his own place). She told him she just had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but she wasn’t about to let that beat her. Together, they worked out an arrangement where he would cook and cut the grass, she would clean and take out the trash. He also would take her for her cancer treatments at 5:30 in the morning in her “pimped-out pink” Volvo.

“Nurses, doctors, the receptionist, they all got a smile and a hug when they saw Lois,” Matt said. “To me, Lois was treating them with her positive spirit and smiles as much as they were treating her for cancer.”

Seeing the way Lois embraced her cancer treatments made Matt certain she was the perfect poster child — if you could call an 81-year-old a child — to lead Smilocracy into the future. Dipping into her own savings, Lois invested $1,000 in 25,000 smiley face stickers to give to everyone she and Matt meet.

“Most people are thrilled to receive the smiles,” said Lois. “Some say, ‘No thank you,’ but more are glad to get one.”

“We pick and choose who we give them to,” added Matt. “There’s a vibe, a certain energy, we get. I can’t really explain it. It seems we choose the right people.”

On weekends, this Harold-and-Maude twosome can be found all over town, at Paint Louis, at the St. Louis Art Fair, and downtown, where they help to feed the homeless and give out smiles. 

“They call her Saint Lois,” said Matt.

“She’s spreading love, joy and smiles, and people respond to that,” said Jackie Dirksmeyer, who runs an outreach organization called Feed The Peeps, where Lois and Matt volunteer. “She shares kindness and compassion with her smiles and it has a ripple effect. Lois inspires me to be a better me.”

It was Jackie, by the way, who suggested Lois run for president. “On March 4, she wrote on Lois’ Facebook wall: ‘Happy Birthday, Lois for President,’ ” said Matt. “It was an off-handed comment but it triggered something in me. I thought, why not?”

Matt and Lois know that “Lois for President” is longer than a long shot, though Lois says she would love to receive a few write-in votes. Their next big push is what they call the St. Louis Happiness Initiative, which means spreading smiles to all 2.8 million people in the metropolitan area.

“Our goal is to meet with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who is retiring,” said Lois. “I want him as a retiree to have St. Louis be known as ‘The Smile City.’ We will provide the smiles and sticker everyone. That way he can leave office with a smile.”

The two also plan to be at the Washington University campus, with their oversized smiley-face stage, giving out stickers, when the presidential debate takes place there Oct. 9.

“I would love to show the two candidates how you can be civil, lovely and have a good debate. Happiness and smiles can cure many things, even big issues in the world,” said Lois.

“My goal,” added Matt, “is to trump Trump with a smile.” 

For more information about Smilocracy, go to smilocracy.org.