A sad goodbye to a local legend

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

&uot;Hey, Jason, I just wanted to say that that was a GREAT story on Katelyn. We’re all really proud of what she did, and your story told it really well. Thanks a lot.&uot;

When I heard Ed Smither leave those words on my voice mail last week, I remember smiling. But I wasn’t surprised; Smither, who was calling to thank me for the story I wrote about his daughter Katelyn getting Southeastern District and Eastern Region Player of the Year in field hockey, was one person who almost always called to say thanks if he liked what I’d written. Just letting a young smalltown reporter like me know that his work is important to those that read it makes everything worth it.

Used to hearing Smither give that kind of praise, I went on with my work for the next few days. I just didn’t know that it would be the last time that I’d ever hear his voice. On Sunday night, I got a call from another area coach, telling me that he’d passed on the night before. Edward Smither, just in his late 40s, with one child about to enter college and the other not quite a teen-ager, was gone. Hundreds of kids would never see one of their favorite coaches and teachers, and he’d never again get the chance to see them practice what he taught them.

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Why does that happen? How does it work that so many wastes of human life, like killers, rapists or pedophiles, still walk the earth, while Ed Smither, someone who everyone loved and who had so much to live for, gets stolen from us?

No one will ever know. But maybe it has to do with some people being too good for this world. Once in a while, a person comes along that gives so much to so many in so little time, their work here gets finished much sooner than we feel it should.

Over the past few days, I’ve been asking several people what they’d remember most about Smither. I heard about his energy, his friendliness, his optimism, and his dedication to his job and to his family. And I think that that’s what will carry on his legacy. Because every time we here in Suffolk see a Lakeland player tearing up a field hockey field, football gridiron or basketball court, we’ll see a little bit of Ed Smither. Whenever we notice a local coach tidying up his fields, we’ll see a bit of Ed Smither. Whenever we see high school athletes being gracious if they win and keeping their heads up if they lost, we’ll see a little bit of Ed Smither.

That’s why, every time I attend a sporting event at Lakeland, I’ll still be looking for him. It’s why I still pick up the phone to call him about the sports happenings at his school. That’s why, though we can’t hear him give advice to a softball team in a jam, or high-five him for helping his girls take yet another championship, he’ll always be a part of us, and a part of Suffolk.

When I looked over the crowds of people that filled up his viewing at Baker Funeral Home on Monday evening, and then the crowds of students and faculty at Lakeland for his actual funeral on Tuesday afternoon, I think that if Smither happened to be looking down from his new home above, he’d be proud. He’d be proud of helping Lakeland High create a great sports program, one that was admired not just by the Cavalier community, but by others across Suffolk. He’d be proud of the fact that his life touched hundreds of others. He’d be proud of the fact that he helped create two wonderful daughters. He was a success, in the office and in his personal life. He showed us how to live, and to live well. As we go on with our lives, maybe we should all try to be a bit more like him.

Yes, Edward Smither left us far too soon. But we should all hope to do half as much with our lives as he did.

Goodbye, coach. We’ll never forget you.