Brother’s obit does not do justice to him

My brother’s obituary as it appeared in the Dallas Morning News on October 25 (only viewable for 30 days after publication):

Richard Elliott Smith passed away Oct. 23, 2009 after fighting a 3-year battle with lung cancer. He was born Jan. 12, 1953 in Anderson, Indiana to parents Lynn and Lorraine Smith. He graduated from Anderson University and Dallas Baptist University. He held 2 Master’s degrees.

Richard’s special joy was being a special education teacher. He recently worked at Highland Park High School in the Special Ed department. He was featured in the May 1st edition of “The Bagpipe” in which he spoke of his cancer battle. His favorite shirt to wear to school was a T-shirt with the phrase from “Spamalot”, “I’m not dead yet”. The saying was from a spoof on the 14th century black plague. He also loved telling his doctors and nurses “I’m alive and well and kicking” when asked the question “how are you doing?”

Richard is survived by his wife of 4 years, Susan Peterson-Smith. Also survived by his parents, sister Judy Zack and brother-in-law Sam, brother Michael Smith and sister-in-law Terri, sister and brother-in-law Anne and Mike Hahn, sister and brother-in-law, Christa and Floyd Stanley, nephews Stephen, Jonathan and Benjamin Zack, Matthew Smith, nieces, Stephanie Smith, Gretchen and Delaney Hahn, Emily Stanley and nephew Samuel Stanley and mother-in-law Anne Peterson. Richard was loved by his furry children, Harry Potter, Narnia, Clarrie and Liaku.

Special thanks to Dr. Gupta, Dr. Samsula, Dr. Engleman and Dr. Cheek. Also to the wonderful staff at Texas Oncology Plano Baylor special thanks. A big thank you to Baylor Regional Plano Hospital and their staff for the care they gave to Richard throughout his illness.

Funeral services will be at The Church of the Incarnation on Oct. 30th, 2009 at 3:00 p.m., followed by inurnment at the Church of the Incarnation Memorial Garden, The Reverend Father Matthew Oliver, presiding and The Right Reverend Anthony Burton, assisting. Memorials to be given to the Church of the Incarnation Foundation, Granger Fund.

Photo: Portrait of Richard Smith, five months before death
Richar liked to look death straight in the eye

I know that Susan had to undertake the task of putting this together, which really sucks. In the middle of mourning, you’re supposed to write a life story that sums up 55 years on earth. I wish she had asked me to do it, but I know only a small portion of his time in Dallas and certainly not enough about his last three years.

I was telling my daughter before I flew to Dallas that Richard really should have felt fulfilled at this stage of his life: he had a meaningful career, teaching special ed, after decades of seeking a profession that was rewarding; he had met the girl of his dreams, Susan, after decades of seeking a soul mate, and both of them had purchased a beautiful house in the suburbs of Dallas. It just a bitch that once he had all these things in hand, he had to share them with the cancer monster.

He was a seeker all his life, and it took him all the way down to Texas. He ended up having two Master’s degrees and probably enough extra credits to qualify for another degree. He could have made a fortune at accounting if he had bothered to get certified as a CPA, and indeed his skill with numbers and spreadsheets served him well.

Photo: Richard Smith working with his power tools
Richard sought to be productive even while his body weakened.

I spent six days with him in June. That was the most time that I’ve had with him since I left for Mexico and Peru in 1973, and he was going to be a sophomore at Anderson College. Even as kids, we were separated by four years, which meant that I was over high school when he started, and graduated from college when he was freshman. When you’re young, you think that four years of age difference create huge barriers, but today I look back and think how trivial those differences seem.

Since then, we spent little time together. He made a short visit to Peru in 1976 (he broke his leg just before the Tri-S trip and wore a cast in the Peruvian rain forest, doing service work in Pucallpa). We spoke on the phone, wrote a few letters, had a few family reunions together, but never more than a few hours. When I came back to the States in 1990, he had left my folks’ place to work in Texas. More short encounters until his marriage in October 2005 and then the illness.

I wish I had sought out more opportunities to be a big brother to him. Over the past 30-some months, we’ve spoken on the phone more than we ever did, but it always seemed that he could never hold a conversation for more than 10-15 minutes before getting fatigued, especially in the evening. Plus, at the end, the treatments had stolen 80 percent of his hearing so carrying on a phone conversation was a burden. He hated his hearing aid.

Post Script: Susan has put up a commemorative site with lots of photographs of Richard, some that I had never seen before.