Last Wednesday night as we were driving home from a dinner to celebrate my birthday, I got the news that one of my oldest friends George Smith had died. Although George had been sick for quite a while, it was still a shock to lose such a close friend.
George was many different things to many people, but to everyone who know him he was the man who made us laugh. No one had a better sense of humor than George Smith. This humor and his kindness touched many people in the world. With this post, I will share a few of my memories of George.
I was not around for the early years of George's amazing life story, so I will leave it to others to fill in the blanks correctly. I have heard all of those stories many times: The Trial at Jiskoots, his cross country trip which included an Indian and an arrest in Oklahoma City, the trip to Europe with the Tiernan family when Fatty challenged some locals and ended up hiding under a car while Michael got his nose broken, his brief career at Oglethorpe University that ended at a hotel in Atlanta with George in the hands of the professional gamblers. These are classic Fatty tales that are better told by others and I will defer to their versions of the early years of the legend.
By the late '60's, I began to know George a little bit. I can remember spying on the famous '60's party at the beach club and seeing Fatty dancing in a cage. I can also remember Watch Hill's first rock band Ponce de Leon and the Young Ones. I hope you don't have to ask who was Ponce.
In the early '70's, George had just finished his higher education at the University of B. Altman and was working for his father at GVS Country Store. Suddenly, the two year difference between George and my age group in Watch Hill didn't seem to make much difference. Fatty started hanging with us when he realized that we had certain things in common that his older crowd didn't. In an oft-repeated story, a couple of us went to Peter Calder's house looking for George. When Calder opened the front door, he yelled: "You kids get out of here. George Smith doesn't smoke dope any more." Whatever.
After that summer, GVS became a frequent weekend visitor at Floyd's Hotel in Boston. He was always good for a couple of bags of groceries and a fun time. Fun, if you didn't mind him playing Born in Chicago full blast at 8 in the morning.
When I returned to Philadelphia after college, George took me under his wing. In those days, GVS had a little more life experience than I did. Soon, he introduced me to the Fatty way of life. His apartment served as a club house for many of us who didn't have any other place to hang out. I will never forget the Christmas tree at the house on Berkley Road that was still up in July.
In those summers, we made the long weekend commute from Philadelphia to Watch Hill in Fatty's orange 914 with the dual headphones. I'm not sure how we survived that ride. Each Friday we would go directly from Philadelphia to the bar at the Ocean House and retrace our path on Sunday afternoon. I didn't get much done at the office on Mondays.
George was always passionate about the game of golf whether at Gulf Mills, Misquamicut or Mid Ocean. Relying on his patented Fatty Fade and a lot of golfer's aide, he worked his handicap down to what some said was the worst 7 handicap in the country. Nevertheless, Gussie and the then boy wonder Bakewell Griffin won the 1977 Shinkle Bowl on the 20th hole with a hooded five iron and the birdie putt heard around the world. It was the first victory in the tournament for the our generation and we celebrated like rock stars at the China Village later that night. George went on to mentor Bakewell on and off the course and as his caddie helped him win several club championships.
George's money games with George Kirkpatrick and the "Snicker Set" were legendary at that time and caused Big Daddy, with his hand slapping at his side, to beg Kirko: "Don't play The Kid for nickels." In later years, the Fatty Open became a famous spring stop on the East Coast golf circuit. His tournament reflected George's love for his friends, good fun and the game of golf.
Later when George's ship came in, whatever money he didn't spend renovating the house on Araquat Road (I will never forget the television rising from the floor in the living room), he used to enter his yachting phase. Starting with the first Baabyliner, every year the boats got progressively bigger. Now George was able to create the Fatty lifestyle on the water. Whether at the dock in Watch Hill in the summer or at the Delray Yacht Club in the winter, he was living his dream. We all remember the after parties at the Plimpton Dock, the tales of pirate's booty and the cry of "He's not going to make it."
Unfortunately, as the years went on George began to make some really bad choices. It seemed that he was never as comfortable in his own skin as he should have been. Although we all loved him for what he was, he thought he needed to be something bigger. This led to decisions that turned out badly for him. It is a tragic story, but one that has been repeated many times in the past and will be again in the future.
I am honored to have been one of the 6 people in the world that could call him "Fatty". I will miss you Gussie.