Gary Smith: The Ecclesiastical Purple & The Pagan Orange
July 12th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena
The sun set quietly over the San Francisco Bay Area this evening, leaving a dusk awash in the light jewel tones of early evening. A hint of fleeting pink against a dome of whisper blue. Small breezes stirred the leaves on the big trees stenciled against the sky, while the little trees closer to the earth stood respectful and still. Sitting on the front stoop and listening to the calm, it was hard to remember the chaos of this morning, the noise, the color, the wicked mischief of Gary Smith’s wake.
Held in Silicon Valley, before the noon hour had even arrived, the ballroom at the Double Tree was awash in folks wearing ORANGE! (Master Cooley’s bossy caps, not mine) because that, according to all reports, was Gary Smith’s favorite color. And there was many a photo in the slide show presented to prove the point.
The wake was put together by a large committee of well wishers on behalf of Gary’s family, so Lori Kate, Gary’s son, daughters, and granddaughters could hear more about a man who everyone in the industry knew, everyone in the industry argued with, and everyone in the industry loved. The family simply showed up to Gary’s wake and was surrounded by all that love.
Now it’s true that a real, honest2god wake includes alcohol, and not a little letting loose, but would that really have been fair? After all, Gary was a reformed drinker and hadn’t touched the stuff in decades – a true been-there-done-that-and-now-I’m-dry warrior – so why should anybody else be allowed to fall back on the drink to help them stand and deliver, to help them stand and tell the world what they thought of Gary.
So, miraculously sober, silly and orange, ridden with blues, the 200+ folks at the Double Tree reveled in an hour of joyful truth-telling from the likes of Jim Hogan, Daya Nadamuni, Aparna Dey, Naresh Sehgal, John Cooley’s pants, Mike Gianfagna, Rob Aitken, Gloria Nichols, Andrew Kahng, Gary’s brother, and Lori Kate Smith herself.
From the stage, one by one, they delivered up stories full of rich nonsense, laden with references to Gary’s vast contributions to the industry, and happy – in the way the gentle, bitter-sweet colors of the sunset tell you the day is done, but sorrow’s not required. Gary is gone, but everyone came away assured that sorrow’s not required. Gary would not have wanted it.
Although, he might have wanted somebody to teach Lori Kate how to cook dinner; she told everyone Gary handled that task every night of the week, and she’s at a loss as to how to begin to learn.
For myself, and undoubtedly for others who did not choose to come forward to speak at the mic, not all the stories were told, however.
I, for one, didn’t stand and say that before the Lori Kate era, I used to take Gary to my country club once a year for lunch. Over the meal, he would tell me bundles about his interest in the Celts and how his Smith ancestors were part of that merry clan. And he would also tell me that, although he was portrayed as an analyst, he was really just a showman. And then he’d laugh.
I didn’t stand this morning and say that when Gary turned 65, he was at DATE in Munich, but Lori Kate could not be there. Instead, my husband and I took him to dinner to celebrate at a restaurant just outside of town. Our party of five included my sister-in-law and everybody’s favorite Andorran, Freddy Santamaria.
I didn’t say that although my sister-in-law and Freddy spent the whole evening bickering away in Spanish, French, Italian, and perhaps a little English, Gary spent the whole time regaling my husband and me with yet more info about the Celts and how his Smith ancestors were part of that merry clan. When Freddy got the chef to bring out the free Grappa at the end of the evening, Gary said: Oh, no thanks.
And again, he just laughed.
I didn’t stand this morning and say that several months after that dinner in Munch, I saw Gary in the hallway at DAC. Falling into conversation, I said I was going to walk across the way and buy a coffee at a stand there in the convention center.
Oh, Gary said grandly, I’ll pay for your coffee. I think I owe you.
I said, You owe me? You owe me? You owe me a single cup of coffee? After multiple lunches at my country club and a birthday dinner in Munich, don’t think for one minute that one lousy cup of coffee repays what you owe me. Not for one minute.
Gary just laughed.
I also didn’t stand this morning and say that my sister’s a therapist in Seattle and several years ago, a psychiatrist in her practice was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I didn’t say that I asked my sister if it would be okay to reach out to Gary, to ask if he’d be willing to talk to her colleague. Gary himself had survived the draconian treatments associated with that particularly nasty brand of cancer. My sister said there was no harm in asking.
I didn’t say this morning that I sent an email to Gary, explained that my sister, who Gary had never met, had a colleague, who Gary had also never met, who might benefit from talking to someone who had endured the surgery and chemo associated with esophageal cancer. Would Gary be willing to talk to this guy?
Not 30 seconds after sending the email to Gary, he wrote back: Yep. Happy to talk to him. Here’s my private number. Tell him to call me.
I forwarded the info to my sister, who gave it to her colleague, who was by that point so overwhelmed with fear and grief, he could not bring himself to place the call.
When my sister learned this week that Gary had passed away, she called me. This morning, in fact, just before I left to attend Gary’s wake. She said, yet again, how extraordinary Gary must have been to have been willing to talk to someone he had never met about something as private and personal as cancer treatment and all it entails.
I did not stand up this morning and say publicly that my sister, a woman Lori Kate has never met, was sending her most heartfelt condolences to all of Gary’s extended family, my sister was so moved by news of Gary’s passing.
Last year at DAC, Gary stopped me in the hall. He asked after my sister’s colleague and reminded me that he had never received a phone call from the man. It was with some difficulty, I told Gary that the man had passed away just the previous month. Gary did not laugh. Instead, he asked that I extend his kind condolences to my sister, and through her to the family of her colleague.
I did not stand up and say all of this because none of it would have been news to anyone at Gary’s wake. It would not have been news that he was a cheerful cheapskate, happy to exchange one lousy cup of coffee and a lot of laughter for multiple, multi-course meals.
And, he was a guy who extended the hand of friendship and the offer of comfort to a perfect stranger in need. I did not stand up this morning and say Gary was an extraordinary man, because everyone already knew.
Tags: Gary Smith, Grappa, Lori Kate Smith, The Wearing of the Orange