A tribute to Stephanie Smither

smithersA tribute to Stephanie Smither who recently passed away. I met her doing volunteer photography over the years with the Orange Show and the Houston Art Car Parade. Normally I would say “we have lost a great one.” While that is be true, it seems far more appropriate to celebrate what she gave us when she was here. I’d rather say –

We have all gained and learned from Stephanie Smither. A person both kind and generous. A lady who was an example of how to carry yourself with grace but not be afraid to get your hands dirty building art and helping people. She had mettle. I am thankful for all she gave to Houston. A supporter of the arts in Houston, she was also a person you wanted to hang out with at the Orange Show Gala. She is a person who will be remembered for the good things she did. 

Yes Stephanie is leaving a great legacy in Smither Park.

smither-park-in-progress-schipul

As a photographer behind the lens, I can not say I knew her that well. My loss. Unless the saying “judge a person by their actions” is true. If so, then all of Houston knew her well. She even connected with my kids through Smither’s Park when we volunteered to do some aerial photography of the Orange Show when the Smither Park wall was first being built! She liked Oranges and Drones before drones were cool? Duuuuude.

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Schipul Aerial photos of Smother’s Park at the Orange Show

I don’t think I ever saw Stephanie when she wasn’t smiling and laughing. I was usually hiding behind a camera lens, which sometimes is a great way to view the world if you are an active volunteer and have a history with an organization.

From the Chronicle:

About 400 people jammed the Menil Collection Thursday night to celebrate with donor Stephanie Smither the opening of an exhibition (As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither) marking her gift of 50 important works of folk art to the museum.

Gift-from-Stephanie-and-John-Smither-to-Menil-Collection

Sunday morning, they were saddened by her death but also applauding her colorful life, lived passionately and well.

Smither, 75, died Saturday night at home in Houston, surrounded by her family. She had been in declining health since a double lung transplant two and a half years ago.

Paige Johnson, one of Smither’s three children, said her mother told doctors in January they needed to keep her alive until June 9 for the opening of the show, “As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither.”

“It was her life’s dream to have her collection at the Menil, to have it recognized by such a beautiful and important museum,” Johnson said. (more)

From: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/houstonchronicle/obituary.aspx?n=stephanie-smithers&pid=180330773

Stephanie Kerr Smither    1941-2016

Stephanie Kerr Smither, “Nana” will be remembered for her beautiful smile, loving her family, the marriage to her childhood sweetheart, inventive cooking, and always being the last to leave the party! She surrounded herself friends and beautiful objects, was wildly adventurous, fun loving, gracious and a courageous lady. Nana will be remembered for her big hugs, which she gave generously. Nana passed away June 11, 2016 at home surrounded by family and wearing her favorite turquoise rings.

Stephanie was born in Jacksonville, Texas, to Frankie Zou Gaston and Stephen Austin (“S.A.”) Kerr, May 4, 1941. Raised in Huntsville, Texas where her parents founded Kerr’s Department Store; she spent her days helping to run the store with the daddy she loved. As a young girl she learned the piano, enjoyed baseball and fell in love with her childhood sweetheart – John Henderson Smither. Their favorite place to “park” was Pritchett Pasture, now Interstate 45, where she helped John feed his cattle. Her sister Zou said, “it is hard to remember her before John!” They married while students at the University of Texas at Austin. John was in law school while Stephanie taught at the Texas School for the Deaf. Upon graduation, they moved to Stuttgart, Germany with their two children where John served in the Army. These were fond memories traveling Europe, in their VW bug with kids in the back. They settled in Houston and raised three children. Stephanie was active in the Blue Bird Circle, The Houston Garden Club and Westminster United Methodist Church, though what she enjoyed most was staying at home supporting John and her children with their endeavors.

Stephanie, a “sophisticated hoarder” or (consummate collector), was always on the hunt for handmade and one-of-a-kind objects. She was known for her bright orange lipstick and big jewelry, without which she felt underdressed. She was also known for her creative tablescapes, beautiful penmanship, and famous Smither Salsa. With her East Texas accent, someone said, “Stephanie was the only person she knew who said ‘hush’ in four syllables”. At Christmas her house was filled with carved Santas, her tree covered in her handmade needlepoint angels and the smells of homemade fudge and peanut brittle on the stove. Nana stayed busy all year making the grandchildren’s Christmas stockings and their annual needlepoint ornaments.

She and John loved hosting dinner parties and she delighted in cooking scrumptious gourmet meals. They always ended the evening with Stephanie playing the piano barefoot while John and their beloved supper club of 50 years sang into the wee hours. Stephanie thought if people left her house before midnight it was a bad party!

Her favorite activities included cheering for her grandchildren at sporting events, being a “mean” liar’s dice player, taking her grandchildren to exotic places, playing Mah Jongg, and spending time with family and friends at Sunset Lake in Huntsville, Texas.
The family wishes to express their gratitude to her generous lung donor and his family, Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. Scott Scheinin, Dr. Osama Gaber, Dr. Thomas Kaleekal, Sydney Bridges and the staff for their heroic effort over the last 2 ½ years. She was able to fulfill her lifetime dream of overseeing the creation of Smither Park, gifting her art to The Menil Collection and completing a documentary about her years as a collector of Visionary Art. In addition, she was honored as one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2015 by Houston Woman Magazine and as the 2014 Texas Patron of the Year by Art League Houston.

We know Stephanie would also like to thank all the sweet supporters of Smither Park and the artists who were so dear to her. Thank you also to the staff at The Menil Collection who were so wonderful to work with on the current exhibition.

Stephanie felt blessed to spend her last two evenings at the celebration dinner and opening of her collection at The Menil. She was radiant and so touched by the public outpouring of support. Afterwards, family and friends returned to her home for her famous SmitherRitas. She had one last toast, retired to her room, and eased into her final slumber surrounded by family and friends with the joyous sounds of the party below.

She treasured her children and their spouses, John Kerr Smither, Ashley and Curt Langley, Paige and Todd Johnson, and her grandchildren who affectionately called her Nana: Amon Smither; Austin, Madison and Jack Langley; Wells, John David, Pierce, Hill and Blake Johnson; her sister and brother-in-law Zou Kerr and Boyd F. Cherry; sisters-in-law, Martha Smither and Trudie Smither, nieces and nephews, Robert Smither, III, Sallie Crotty, John J. Smither and Mary Kate Jefferies; great grand nieces and nephews Kate and Stephen Crotty and Cole Smither. She was preceded in death by her parents S.A. and Frankie Zou Kerr, her husband John H. Smither and two brothers-in-law Robert B. Smither, Jr. and Wilbur L. Smither, III.

The memorial service celebrating her life is Thursday, June 16th at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Rd, Houston, Texas. The graveside service will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Oakwood Cemetery located at 9th Street and Martin Luther King Drive in Huntsville, Texas. It was Stephanie’s wish that everyone celebrate her life by wearing a bit of her favorite color, orange.

For those desiring, contributions in Stephanie’s memory may be made to: Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation, P. O. Box 4384, Houston, TX 77210-4384 (in honor of Dr. Scott Scheinin for transplant research; Nora’s Home for transplant patients and their families, 8300 El Rio St., Houston 77054 http://www.norashome.org, Smither Park, 2402 Munger, Houston, Texas 77004 http://orangeshow.org

Published in Houston Chronicle from June 15 to June 16, 2016

Here is to the power of the Orange Show, the people and the place, to bring people together. Thanks y’all. I’ll be back out there when I get a camera again.

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My Final Thoughts – like so many other great people in Houston, I wish I had gotten the chance to truly know her beyond photography. Running into Stephanie, whatever the event from the Art Car Parade, to the Art Car Ball, to an Orange Show event or at an event commemorating her donations to create Smithers’ Park next to the Orange Show Monument. Smiling.

She was consistent – she was generous of her time and money, she was true to her word, and by God she loved the color Orange! And the color Orange not only looked great on Stephanie, I am quite sure it loved her back.

I predict Orange will be very big this fall.

#peace

 

Thank you Bruce Lee Williams – You Made a Difference

We lost a truly great person on May 22nd 2016 when Bruce Williams passed away in San Jose California. Bruce was just awesome. He personified the quiet leader who spoke with actions and few words. I learned a lot from the little time I was able to spend with him. And I’m grateful and humbled that he shared that time, wisdom, advice, humor and a beer with me.

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The backstory – our company’s employees are mostly in Houston, Austin and California. As a virtual company when you expand you still need a physical space to “go to” and to “meet” when you travel. Coffee shops only go so far. So when April Kyle expanded Tendenci west to California she carefully chose just such a place – The Office of Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale.

It is easy to think of an office as a physical place. But they are so much more. And this becomes even more important when physical interchanges between employees are fewer because we’ve moved to Zulip (or Slack) and online ticketing system, github, gitlab, redmine, tendenci (we use it ourselves too), gmail, skype and a few other open source tools that hold our company together. And trust me, you still need a few trusted physical spaces.

And if those physical locations are run by a trusted and wise elder who is humble but wise, then you have truly found a diamond.

That diamond – his name was Bruce Lee Williams and he was welcoming and supportive when we expanded to California far far beyond what any typical co-working space that I have experienced is like. His depth of knowledge was astounding as were his connections, but you only knew this if you asked him as he was respectful to everyone and sometimes entrepreneurs are too knuckle-headed to ask for advice. Luckily our team isn’t like that.

Bruce helped me personally in so many ways, sometimes in a 5 minute talk, sometimes giving me 2 hours of his time on the spur of the moment. That time had value, which he and I both knew and, well maybe I’m repeating myself, but this is a man I truly respected. He was the real deal and while the world may not know his name like they know Steve Jobs’ name, I assure you this humble man had as much impact on Silicon Valley over the years as anyone I can think of. He spoke softly. And people listened. I listened.

Bruce – I appreciate everything you did to help my team, to help us continue to grow Tendenci. I appreciate the meetings you set up for me on a moments notice when I flew into town unannounced. I appreciate that you let my team bring their dogs to work. I appreciate the epic ping pong battles and the creativity of your own company. You are missed. You are legend Sir. Legend!

From: http://www.darlingandfischerchapelofthehills.com/obituaries/Bruce-Lee-Williams-2842612690/#!/Obituary

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Obituary for Bruce Lee Williams

Bruce Williams passed away surrounded by loving family and friends on the evening of Sunday, May 22. Bruce fought a valiant fight against the ravages of pancreatic cancer for 18 months. He fought hard and with his typical upbeat and positive nature, more worried about how his disease was affecting others than himself.

Bruce was born in St. Charles, MO on July 7, 1950 to Frank and Gladys Williams. He graduated from William Jewel College in Liberty MO and served his country in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.

In the early 1990’s he founded Westminster Promotions and was the driving force in its success. Surrounded by a dedicated group of individuals, Westminster is the quintessential small business where its employees are family and Bruce loved and valued them all.

Bruce truly was “one of a kind” and he “never met a stranger”. He had the unique ability to make those he came in contact with feel like they were the most important person in the room, and it was genuine – to him they were! He loved people and was interested in their lives, hopes and dreams. He never saw himself as a mentor and yet that is exactly what he was. He mentored so many people and led by example, demonstrating a determination to succeed, a loving heart and an unparalleled zest for life.

Bruce is survived by his loving and heartbroken wife, Kathryn Williams, his children Courtney Williams (Montique), Brian Brown (Kelly) and Matthew Brown (Kristin). He will miss the opportunity to watch his six grandchildren grow and thrive under the legacy he leaves – Jaelyn, Nate, Evelyn, Nora, Landon and Ethan. He will be missed by the “sister he never had” Diana Elizondo and brother-in-law, Larry Elizondo. He is survived by his brother Doug Williams (Elma), and loving nieces, nephews and their families. And finally he leaves behind the friends who weren’t related by blood, but by love, and were considered family members – you know who you are. He was pre-deceased by his brother Frank and they are probably up there somewhere sharing a thermos of gin and tonics and shooting a round of golf.

A Celebration of Life, followed by a party he Bruce would have loved, will be held on June 4th at 3:30 at the Williams’ home, located at 20890 Hidden View Lane in Saratoga. Because parking is extremely limited, a shuttle will be provided from Saratoga Elementary School, 14592 Oak St. Saratoga, beginning at 2:30. Return shuttle will be provided until 7:30.

Donations in Bruce’s name may be sent to The Helen Diller Family Cancer Center at UCSF.

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From his bio on his company’s site at: http://westminsterpromotions.com/about/bruce-williams

bruce-williams

Bruce Williams

Founder, Westminster Promotions

As founder and CEO, Bruce has consistently led the company for the past two decades with vision and purpose.  His keen eye for talent has allowed him to assemble a strong group of professionals who exhibit their considerable skills to insure the client is highly satisfied with the end result.  His extensive background in sales has provided him with the ability to clearly understand the needs of the client and to guide them to the best solution.  Bruce brings exuberance and passion to the job and coupled with the seniority and wisdom of a Silicon Valley veteran, that makes for an unbeatable combination.  Clients have included AT&T Labs, TiVo, PalmSource, NetApp, National Semiconductor and many other Silicon Valley heavy hitters.

Mentor

With many years of experience, who better to guide this team of creative professionals?  Our fearless leader is in the office every morning by 7:00 and doesn’t leave until the job is done and done right.  Need advice?  Call Bruce.  Don’t understand a business acronym someone just threw at you?  Call Bruce.  Need a laugh?  Call Bruce.  There’s a reason the name Bruce is nearly always associated with “The Boss”.

Weekend Warrior

When he is not in the office you can find him wrangling his small herd of grandbabies or perhaps poolside playing bartender.  Bruce is ever the gracious host and makes a mean Cosmo although recently he’s been dabbling in the world of Margaritas.  He plays just as hard as he works and we love him for it.

I have no doubt this post does not give proper credit to the amazing man that Bruce was. Bruce was not only humble and very influential, but also quiet like many of us. He didn’t share his troubles and his passing caught me off guard. All I can say is, and I think he would agree with this statement, great people are all around you. Hug them now because life is short.

I am thankful for your positive influence on my life and for the help you went above and beyond on for our company. You rock Bruce. And you are truly missed already.

In closing, all I can say is what Bruce would say. GO SHARKS!!!!!

go-sharks

Win one for the Gipper y’all.

PS – once the Sharks win their first NHL Championship, which I guarantee Bruce is watching right now, then the ping-pong leader board in Heaven will have a new competitor. A soft-spoken, strong competitor and leader.  Rock on Bruce. Rock on.