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Dr Lavinia Smith was a world-renowned virologist in the mid- to late-20th century. She was the sister of Africana and Eddie Smith, the sister-in-law of Barbara Smith and the aunt of Sarah Jane Smith. She took care of Sarah after her parents died in 1951 and, after Sarah was grown and on her own, she took another orphan, Brendan Richards, as her ward.
In 1978, Dr Smith was still living on Hill View Road in South Croydon when she received a mysterious crate addressed to her niece. Not knowing what it contained, she packed it away and took it with her when she moved to the manor house she purchased in the small Gloucestershire village of Moreton Harwood the following year; she also acquired a half interest in the manor's market garden. At some stage, she adopted a ward, Brendan Richards. Valuing education, she sent Brendan to board at Wellington College.
Lavinia was not widely liked in Moreton Harwood, as she was intolerant of superstitions and the growing practice of witchcraft, and her letters to the editor of the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard were frequently published. Her closest friends there were Juno Baker and Juno's husband Howard, and her partner in the market garden, Commander Bill Pollock (whom she was unaware was the high priest of the Hecate Cult and nearly sacrificed Brendan).
Before going on a lecture tour of America in December 1981, Lavinia had the crate brought down from the attic for Sarah Jane to open when she arrived a few days later. The crate turned out to be from the Doctor. It contained a gift for Sarah Jane, K9 Mark III.