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Saying Good-Bye To NPR's Gary Smith

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Our dear NPR colleague, Gary L. Smith, died this week at age 57. For the past four years, Smith presided over NPR's front desk, greeting everyone who walked through with a giant smile. The loveliness that lit up his face was his determination to see the beauty in everyone.


NPR's Washington, D.C. headquarters is filled with people privileged to travel around the world to bring back stories about remarkable persons. The past four years, one of the most remarkable was sitting right downstairs. Gary Smith was a big, friendly man with a joshing smile who presided over the front desk. With undiscriminating warmth, he welcomed employees and visitors, executives and tourists, delivery people and those who just wander in to use a bathroom.

Gary Smith died this week at the age of 57. He loved his family, his friends, his faith, his work and the Pittsburgh Steelers. That order was reversed during the football season. Gary managed to have personal relationships, friendships with hundreds of people at the same time and regarded his friendships as living things to be nourished everyday. He remembered birthdays, hometowns and the names of your children. He asked about spouses, mothers and where you got those shoes. He told you what he thought about those shoes.

Once I brought our daughter's deceased fish, Salmon Fishdee(ph), into work in a plastic bag. I was going to get a new fish, switch salmons, if you please, on the way home. Told Gary I had to put the late Sammy in a bin. Gary said, you can't do that, Scott. That little fish has a soul. Everyone has a soul. We have to bury him. So we went outside together, scooped out a small hole and consigned Salmon Fishdee to eternal rest under a city tree. I was flummoxed about what to say. Gary spoke up. "Sammy, you were a great little fish and a little girl loved you. Thank you." It was as perfect an oration about a life as I've ever heard.

NPR's White House correspondent, David Greene, is also as a Steelers fan. After David's mother died, Gary would call him on Sundays because he knew David missed talking to his mother during the games. When the Steelers were welcomed to the White House after winning the Super Bowl, David made certain Gary got a credential. The two of them gawked and squealed but Gary made sure to get David an autograph from his mother's favorite player. Here's a man who asked for so little, David said this week, and yet was willing to spread love to strangers who walk through those glass doors.

Gary was religious in a building filled with people, in a profession that's known for attracting skeptics, and I heard a few reporters say yesterday, if a person as good as Gary was religious, maybe there's something to God. I think that something was reflected in the way Gary reminded us everyone has a soul.

People would walk through those glass doors hurried, harried, anxious, angry or distressed. Gary beheld them with a kind of rare insight at which journalists can only marvel. Gary Smith saw through to people's souls and the beauty that Gary was determined to see in others was the loveliness that lit up his face and so many lives everyday.

(Soundbite of song "Here We Go, Steelers")

Here we go, Here we go, Here we go, Steelers, Here we go, Pittsburgh's goin' to the Super Bowl Here we go Cheer the Steelers, The black and the gold, It's time for Pittsburgh's heart and soul, With Cowher power, We'll get the job done, This is the year we'll get that one for the thumb!

SIMON: Let's win one for Gary. This is NPR News.

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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