In Loving Memory of Dodge Drake Smith: 1950 – 2012

Posted by on March 3, 2012

Dodge Smith surrounded by his sons Brandon and Drake

My father, Dodge Drake Smith, passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at the age of 61. A memorial service will be held in Birmingham, AL on March 10, 2012 from 2 – 4 PM at the Courtyard Marriott in Homewood, AL at 500 Shades Creek Parkway. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the New Life Foundation

A Brief History of Dodge

Dodge was born in Anderson, Indiana on May 18th, 1950 to J.B. Smith and Lois Bell Smith. He was a 1968 graduate of Tuscaloosa High School (Alabama) where he served as captain of the Black Bears swim team.

Dodge attended the University of Alabama, graduating in 1973, and was a proud member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. After college, Dodge was a successful businessman in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, before returning to Birmingham, Alabama in 1986 where he owned and operated several businesses.

Dodge was a devoted son, a loving father and a positive influence in the lives of many individuals. Those who knew Dodge will remember him fondly, and miss him greatly.

He is survived by sons, Brandon Connor Smith and Wesley Drake Smith, and brothers, Thomas J. Smith of Huntsville, Lex B. Smith of Tuscaloosa, Gregg L. Smith of Birmingham, and Kelly L. Smith of Hanceville.

Dodge Drake Smith

My father was larger than life in many ways – charismatic, fun, good-looking, brilliant in business, a great salesman, a very loving father, a rebel, a great dancer and a millionnaire twice over. He was generous to a fault, and was always helping someone in need or taking in a stray dog. He adored children, and I know that my brother and I were his greatest treasures. I could go on about the magic he brought into the world and the sparkle in his eyes.

And yet, he also had his struggles. Over the years, especially as times got more difficult, he struggled with alcohol and began to spiral downward. He began to distance himself from his friends, and his dark period began. I imagine that deep down, he felt embarrassed and unworthy because he was no longer a superstar. He falsely believed that his value depended on external signs of “success.”

After a long spell of self-destruction and broken relationships, my dad moved to Jacksonville, FL a couple of years ago. One of his friends invited my dad to live with him and helped him get a job. My younger brother, Drake, and I visited him in October 2010 and had a wonderful visit. We went on a canoeing trip together, did some creative projects and had lots of laughs. We met his community of friends, and he seemed to be finding his place again. I felt that he was in a better place and happier than I had seen him in a long time.

At his memorial service here this past week, I realized just how well he was doing and how many people he touched in his community here. He was in a very happy relationship with his girlfriend. He was also getting to use some of his business genius again by helping her improve her business. She said that his help had a hugely positive effect on her company, and I believe this gave him a renewed sense of purpose.

An older woman told stories of how my dad used to drive her to her doctor’s appointments, wait on her and bring her home. A friend of his spoke of how my dad helped pull him out of depression and find a renewed sense of purpose in life. I can’t count the number of times people told me how positive he was and how he made them laugh – how he treated the janitor with the same dignity that he would show the President of the United States. His girlfriend’s granddaughter, an eleven-year-old named Hanna, told me stories for well over half an hour about the games my dad used to play with her and her friends – how my dad used to take her fishing and explore the different critters in the pond behind their house; how he would mischievously wake the kids up late at the night and give them all ice cream, cookies and jolly ranchers (mixed together!) while the other adults were sleeping. She and her friend also talked about how they would often be surprised in the morning to find that some of their favorite foods had mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night. Indeed, my father was so loved by his community here that they will be holding a second memorial service for him on Sunday, March 4th to accommodate a larger crowd.

The Final Days

My dad was admitted to the hospital after being found unconscious on the morning of February 23rd. He had been suffering from high blood pressure and severe electrolyte imbalances. He was admitted into the intensive care unit and was relatively stable. In the middle of the night, his condition worsened severely, and he had three cardiac arrests. While they were able to revive him his brain was without oxygen for too long and he lost all brain function.

It took me a couple of days to get to him as I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand and had to fly half way around the world to get home. When I entered his hospital room, I found my dad in what appeared to be a gentle, deep sleep. He had lots of tubes and wires connected to him, and an unfamiliar beard beginning to grow. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to feel the warmth of his body again – to stroke his hand, his face, his hair – he had great hair. I spent a number of hours there with him feeling and expressing all kinds of emotions – anger, sadness, guilt. I told him how much I loved him, and I knew that he knew.

The prognosis was clear. He had no brain activity and no chance of recovery. The machines were simply keeping his body running. On Wednesday morning I gathered with my family at the hospital (my brother, Drake, my mother, my brother’s mom, my father’s current girlfriend and her daughter). We were also accompanied by the hospital’s chaplains who were supportive, respectful and wise beyond belief. After a bit more time, we said our final good-byes. Then the nurses withdrew life support. Even though he went very quickly and peacefully, that experience was one of the hardest and most terrible things I have ever had to do.

If there is someone close to you that you are at odds with, call them and give up the grudge. It doesn’t matter who is wrong or right. If there is someone you know suffering from addiction, do all you can to help them find help. In the end, they still have to want to change, but support, encouragement and even “tough love” from loved ones can make all the difference.

I feel grateful to be surrounded by such loving and supportive family and friends. I already see how this experience is bringing our family closer together and helping us appreciate the preciousness and fragility of life. Dodge will be dearly missed by many, especially by my brother and me. May the beauty, love, generosity and laughter he brought into the world continue to enliven our lives.

In Loving Memory of Dodge Drake Smith
May 18, 1950 – February 28, 2012

(For you, Dad – Love Brandon and Drake)

I have so many fond memories of my dad
his caring for my grandmother when she was afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease
his unceasing generosity . . . to a fault
his brilliant creativity
his adoration of Elvis
his passion for dancing
his child-like enjoyment of
the Three Stooges, the Muppets, Spaghetti Westerns, and silly comedies
his rebel-minded, “my way” attitude
his sense of adventure and exploration
our trips into the wilderness
his love for teaching me new things
his crazy culinary concoctions
often brewed in the wee hours of the morning.
Fruit omelet, anyone?
the way he loved to chew toothpicks and
go for long walks after dinner
cold spaghetti for breakfast
his unique sense of “style”
summers at the beach
long drives and the stories he would tell
the way lying close to him felt when we were watching a movie or
taking an afternoon nap
his appreciation of affection and his unending request, “come rub me”
the goofy grin he would give when he thought something was ridiculous
the way he could make me laugh
“wrastling” with him as a kid and getting tickled until I thought I would burst,
but loving every second of it
his undying support for the underdog
his willingness to prioritize spending time with me
the visions he could create and make you see -
the visions of a better world.
These were all expressions of his love.
He was a wonderful father in so many ways, even with all of his faults.
I’m blessed to have felt so loved by him.
I really loved him and knew that he really loved me.
This is the greatest gift we can give another -
to let someone know, beyond the shadow of a doubt
that they are deeply loved.

16 Responses to In Loving Memory of Dodge Drake Smith: 1950 – 2012

  1. 1
    Michelle M. says:

    Sending much love to you, and your family, Brandon. He sounds like an amazing man. Thank you for sharing this tribute with your blog readers.

  2. 2
    Bob Patrick says:

    Brandon, first, my heart and deepest care go out to you and your family. I’ve read this wonderful tribute you have written for your father, tears running down my face. I met your father once or twice when you were 14 or 15 on parents night at JCHS. My middle daughter and Drake stayed in the same day-care for a year together, so I knew Drake when he was very little. And, of course, I am so honored to continue to share your journey with you. This is a huge moment in the unfolding of your journey. Your father’s life sounds amazing, and his last years sound just completely beautiful with the interactions that he had with so many people on such a heart-deep level. How happy and blessed you are not only to have had this wonderful relationship, but to be able to see it so clearly with the light, the dark and the beauty woven in. I wish I were free on March 10 to drive over to B’ham to be with you all. I cannot. Please know that my heart is with you. Do call me if you have a moment and wish to talk.

  3. 3
    judith says:

    SENDING A LONG HUG TO YOU AND YOUR MOM!!!

  4. 4
    Angela Rivera says:

    My sweet brother, what a beautiful testament you written about your father. I am so sorry for Drake and your loss. I know your father must have been incredibly proud off tge man you have become. Let me know if I can do anything. -Angie

  5. 5
    Fiona Barnes says:

    Brandon, what a wonderful soul your father was and how lovingly you have memorialized him. My thoughts are with you.

  6. 6
    Christine says:

    Brandon, your father will always be with you! My father passed away several years ago and he is always near me making me smile just by thinking about him. You have learned to love all the little faults and big blessings he showed you as the human he was. May every moment you had with him carry on to inspire you to be the best you are! Love. Christine

  7. 7
    StaceyAnanda says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, moving, honest, loving, and thoughtful memoriam of your dad. I feel like I got to meet him a little and see him shine through your words.

  8. 8
    Nicole (phool chatti) says:

    Sending you love Brandon and a big embrace. Nicole xx

  9. 9
    April says:

    Brandon, you have a beautiful way with words. Dodge was a charming man who had a way of making everyone feel special. I still live in the house and enjoy the ferns tended by your grandmother…I look forward to seeing you while you are here in Alabama.

  10. 10
    Pat Smith says:

    Brandon,
    Well said young man. I was a friend of your fathers at the Phi Gam house while we attended University of Alabama. We had LOTS of fun together, Alabama football games, lake Tuscaloosa and of course the famous Fiji Island parties. I had not seen Dodge in thirty years, so it was great to see what a great father he was to you and Drake.
    Hope to see you in Birmingham.
    Pat

  11. 11
    John Carry says:

    Brandon, what an interesting journey you have been pursuing…but my purpose in posting here is to honor your father. I first met Dodge in 1975 when he was referred to me concerning a business transaction. Florida had entered into one of its cyclical real estate bust cycles but Dodge was already looking to the future of building supplies and where construction would be heading when the boom cycle resumed. (In the ensuing years I saw this forward thinking on his part on multiple occasions.) Weeks later, Dodge introduced me to your Mom and then we started socializing as couples in an expanding network of young married folks pre children. Your parents stood out as beautiful people but they also brought along a warmth and lack of pretension that a lot of the crowd did not. You knew Dodge was successful but economic success didn’t define him as a man. You mentioned in your tribute his ability to engage people from all walks of life. Dodge made it look easy. I eventually realized that it wasn’t a collection of smooth gestures on his part…he really was interested in what they had to say.

    He had a sense of humor. In the mid 80s, Dodge and I went on a fishing/camping trip out to Wyoming and Montana. We flew into Denver but had been delayed so we were anxious to get up to the Medicine Bow Mountains in southern Wyoming to camp along French Creek. Of course we got an expensive speeding ticket on the interstate driving north. By the time we got up in the mountains the weather suddenly changed and we had to pitch the tent in a June sleet storm. My plan to catch dinner was washed out so we shared a can of sardines and crackers by flashlight in the two man tent rattling in the wind. I was miserable and bitching and your Dad started telling jokes and stories. I ended up laughing so hard that I had sore stomach muscles the next day. We spent over a week fishing rivers and streams together and I remember the trip as one of easy companionship.

    Final story. You mentioned “strays.” In the mid 90s, Dodge and I were walking the woods down at the hunt lease (which he belonged to, yet never hunted). In the afternoon as we approached the hunt club camp, we heard a whining coming from under one of the trailers. We paused and a scrawny puppy crawled out. It was alone and starving. No one ever figured out how it got so deep in the woods. Dodge said, “Come here, Jeff” and scooped him up. He put the puppy on the back seat of the Suburban and we headed back to Birmingham. I waited a while and then started my “Are you sure you want to do this?” cross examination, mentioning animal shelters etc. as alternatives. Your Dad finally said, “I can handle another project” and Jeff became a member of your household.

    Dodge dropped out of my life around 10 years ago. He was aware I was concerned about his drinking. Dodge knew how special I thought he was and I think he did not want me to see him any other way. So…I’m left with great images and memories of Dodge Drake Smith. Brandon and Drake, there was so much about your father you can be proud of.

  12. 12
    Bill Carpenter says:

    Thank you Brandon…I see your beautiful memorial to your Dad as a reflection of what a wonderful man he was!

    Dodge and I were pledge brothers at Alabama. I have lots of fond memories of “wild and crazy times together…paryting, studying (yes, we did a bit of studying) and creek-banking. I remember him as always being generous and thoughtful…and when you mentioned his “goofy grin,” I remember it well…we called it his sh*t-eating grin! And, I remember what a great time we had in West Palm at his wedding to Susan!

    Thanks for sharing your Dad with us thru your writing…while I haven’t seen Dodge in years… your sharing brings back lots of memories of a great man who obviously enjoyed a life well lived.

    Peace and Love – Bill

  13. 13
    King Curry says:

    Dodge and I were on the Tuscaloosa High School Swim Team in 1971 when we won the Alabama State Swimming Championship; his junior year, my Sophomore year. I left THS to go to another school after that but we reconnected at the Phi Gam house as pledge brothers. Dodge will be missed by many.
    King

  14. 14
    Tom Patterson says:

    Brandon and Drake,
    The cool crispness and deep blue sky of this memorial day here in Birmingham for your dad remind me of his demeanor, drive, and ambition so evident when I first met him as he graduated from high school and started college in the late sixties. We had many conversations over the years, mostly over his latest and greatest “idea” for a new business, the most memorable being a “meals on wheels” concept for the elderly but delivered by FedEx! Your dad’s spirit will be One that touches each of our spirits that knew him for eternity……

  15. 15
    Peter Wrycza says:

    Brandon, having had the pleasure of getting to know you last ‘summer’, I appreciated what you shared here about your father, which I found very touching. We chatted about a few things over the weeks you were at Nirarta, but not much as I recall about your father. Being not far off his age, and not having had a father to speak of, I came to fatherhood late. I really appreciate the rounded picture you sketched, endorsed by family and friends here. It’s an image of fatherhood, I trust will ripen in you when the time comes, in the right way for you. Hope you and your family continue to pass through this shift in the constellation in a good way….keep in touch, Peter

  16. 16
    Daraius says:

    Brandon,

    That was a very moving tribute and I’m very sorry to hear of your loss.

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