Eulogy for George Ivan Smith

The family of George Smith, for whom services were held on Saturday, has asked that the Eulogy given by his daughters, Cynthia Smith and Alyssa Phelps, be posted on our website. There were many requests for the text to this war;m and funny portrait of their father and we are happy to post it here.

EULOGY for George Ivan Smith

by his daughters, Alyssa Phelps and Cynthia Smith
August 17, 2019

George Ivan Smith

For those who don’t know us, George was our dad.  He grew up as the older brother to three little sisters, which, we’re sure, gave him plenty of insight when it came to raising two daughters.  He was close to his family and quite sentimental—-this past week, as we’ve been going through his drawers and boxes and files, we’ve come across countless letters and memorabilia he saved, to and from his parents and sisters, that chronicle his time in college, in seminary, in Indonesia where he did mission work, at a 1960’s civil rights protest in the south; letters about being set up with our mom by his  boss and good friend, Ernie Fogg, getting married and having a baby, driving from New York to Oregon in a U-haul with a toddler and a pregnant wife, starting a graphic design business and sharing a home here in Portland for five years with our dear friends the Olivers; letters about teaching art, letters debating politics.  He also kept his correspondence with friends, mementos from his travels, clippings from newspapers of anything he thought might be meaningful to someone close to him,  cartoons he drew, photos and slides.  More photos and slides.  He saved it all in carefully labeled boxes.  Of course, not everything he saved is quite as appreciated—we’ve also come across tax returns from 1982, test questions from his 1990’s tenure as an art professor, packets of press-on vinyl lettering that are yellowed with age.  My understanding is that if items are carefully packed away and labeled, then you’re not *technically* a hoarder. 

 We’ve spent the past week trying to think of things to say that would illustrate just what he meant to us, not to mention everyone else who knew him.  Two quotes came to mind.  One, from Winnie the Pooh, is “How lucky I am to have something (or, in this case, someone) that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  Our grief at his loss is tempered by our gratitude in having him, happy and healthy, for so long.  Dad always made himself available, whether it was to come to the rescue with jumper cables by the side of the highway at 6 AM, or to have an impromptu and in-depth discussion about the importance of kindness and equality, and taking action for your beliefs.  He once recounted his experience in the ‘60s helping black people in the South register to vote.  More recently, he marched every year in support of equality in the annual Pride Parade in downtown Portland.  

When my husband and I moved just three years ago, Dad came over to our new home each day and spent countless hours there, chopping down several unwanted palm trees in our yard (don’t worry—we planted other trees in their place), painting the foundation, and scraping off layers of wallpaper in every room of the house.  When Mom and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, he gamely obliged our request to mark the occasion with a family trip to Hawaii, where he hiked with us, waded in the ocean, and even danced with Mom at the luau.  Just three weeks before he passed away, he made us all dinner, as he always did on Thursdays, cracking cheesy dad jokes and watching our faces, as usual, to see how long it would take for us to roll our eyes at his puns.

The other quote that we felt really captured Dad is one that he often repeated, telling us it was Father John Scannell’s mantra.  It’s from H. Jackson Brown Jr.: “Never resist a generous impulse.”  And Dad never did. He would say that it was important to send a card to someone “just because it was Tuesday”, and he got a kick out of surprising people with a freshly-baked bread sculpture or a personalized hand-drawn cartoon. He spent many hours after his retirement perfecting his chocolate chip cookie recipe, and made batches of them for anyone he felt “could really use some cookies right now.”  He made it a point to do the little things that made a person feel special.  Each time we came to visit from Japan, he’d clear his schedule so that his car would be available for us to use.  He’d fold our laundry and place it on our bed for us.  He’d cook all our favorite foods and stock the freezer with Tillamook Mudslide ice cream. 

Our children were fortunate to have an attentive Grandpa who took great delight in indulging them.  He made sure to have their favorite meal when they came for dinner—and carefully teach them how to make it–, and their most exciting birthday presents were invariably from him.  He treated them to special “Grandpa days,” taking his granddaughter Hana to paint pottery and his grandson Everett to buy scary books.  They called him “the Master Spoiler.”  Everett was recently imagining what kind of pranks a ghost version of Grandpa might play.  He said “He’d spy on people to see what they wanted for Christmas and then leave it on their porch.  With chocolate chip cookies.”  I think he nailed it.

When we were writing this eulogy, we realized that the hardest part about it was not being able to ask Dad to critique it.  We’re both pretty confident in our writing and artistic skills, but after finishing an essay or a painting, before printing it out or adding the lacquer,  we’d always check in with Dad.  We knew we could count on him to commend us on something about our work that we hadn’t even realized was note-worthy.  But we also knew that he would offer some suggestion or bit of advice that would make our work even better.  And then we’d tweak a sentence, or adjust a shadow, and the piece would be just right. Every once in while, when one of us would run something by him, Dad would respond with “No, put your pen down.  It’s done. You’ve got it.”

Well, Dad, we’re putting the pen down.  Hope we got it.