Sunday, March 29, 2009

George Valentine Smith III 1950-2009

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.


  1. Very well said, Will. Truely a sad day for everyone who knew George. Christ...who's next! Toby

  2. Ponce de Leon and the Young Ones, that is classic! George was the first person I knew that ever made a record. I think the song was called "Lindsey" and his dad got it played on WERI.

    Peter Moore

  3. They broke the mold with GVS. He was a good man with a kind heart who loved to laugh and live on the edge. We'll all miss him, but know he's waiting for us in the great golf lounge in the sky with some great new stories to share.

  4. Ah yes the record of Lindsey. Your memory is excellen,t Peter Moore. How about the $50 haircuts he got in New York in the same era? I think it might have been a flame ciut.

  5. Thanks for the memories Will. It's been too many years since I saw George to find even one specific moment in my ever hardening brain matter to relate in return.But as I stare at the picture you posted of him thousands of undefinite but warm memories swirl...It's actually painful that I can not capture one in crystalline form except for his laugh which for now will have to suffice.
    Syd Thayer

  6. George was one of a kind. The belly-rolling laugh was only a small part of it.
    I didn't know him nearly as well as Will or many others, but since you mentioned his yachting phase I am reminded of the amazing sight of Fatty's big new power yacht, tied to the dock, repeatedly slamming the sea wall in the Watch Hill harbor during Hurricane Bob. His was about the only boat other than already-submerged skiffs and dingies in the harbor and it was left to its own fate. He didn't seem to care and probably wouldn't have known what to do if he did. This was just after witnessing the miracle of the television that rises out of the floor on command.
    I'm not sure George ever had all or any of his priorities right, but he sure had a damn good time trying to sort them out. Good post Bump, he will be missed.

  7. "Nothing succeeds like excess." The wisdon of Geo. Bernard shaw. Also tattoooed to my liver. I hope Geo is in a better place, and managed to do some things which would bring him above the ranks of the lunatic fringe country-club set.

  8. I first met George during the 1999 Hemenway Bowl. I was playing as a guest in our first match on Friday in the prestigious 7th flight. On Hole #8, I pull-hooked my tee shot into the deep fescue left of the green. While searching for my ball, a metallic glint caught my eye. At the same time, I was distracted by a WHOOP let out by one of our opponents who had just chipped in for birdie. I looked back down into the fescue to examine the source of the glint and reached down to find a finely polished smoking implement with a handsome mother-of-pearl inlay. There was no doubt in my mind that this item was an heirloom that had been maintained and cherished by its owner for many years. I quickly placed the item in my pocket and went on to the 9th tee knowing we had lost yet another hole. I believed the heirloom likely belonged to a caddie and told myself that I would discreetly try to return it to its rightful owner. On the 9th tee, I congratulated our opponents and we agreed that "this was their day". I then told them that apparently it was also my day and I held up my find from the fescue. Immediately, they checked out what I was holding and let out another WHOOP with high fives all around. Then they told me, "we know who that belongs to and he's playing a few holes in front of us." Being a guest, I handed it to them promptly and a few holes later I saw from a distance the mysterious figure to whom they returned the heirloom.
    It was only after the round (we were beaten 6-5 I think) that I was introduced to the one and only George Valentine Smith III. George insisted that I call him Fatty and told me how thrilled he was to have his old friend back. He also told me that the reason it had been missing was that our opponents had requested to borrow it from him the previous day during the qualifying round for an attitude adjustment. They proceeded to lose the heirloom on the side of the 8th green where I had found it during our match against them. What are the odds of that happening? George told me that his relationship with the heirloom went back to 1967. He insisted that he cover any expense of mine for the remainder of my stay, although I would have none of it but did let him buy me a drink. He also told me that if I ever wished to join the Club, he would be proud to sponsor me. We all celebrated late into the evening and I will never forget the belly laughs, kindness, and camaraderie of Fatty Smith. Later, on Sunday, my partner and I won the Beaten 8 Section of the 7th Flight and I will always cherish the visual of Fatty Smith holding the Hemenway Bowl while I sipped champagne from it.
    We'll be seeing you again someday George! Until then, rest in peace and God Bless.

  9. Sorry to hear about George - I only knew him as a neighbor as we were growing up, and yes, he was always laughing and carefree. Unfortunately, I'm certain that his Dad didn't give George good/any parental guidance to speak of, and I would have foreseen that George's life would be as it apparently has been. I'm thankful for all of you who appreciated him and cared about him. Tom