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.