Gerald Edward Smith (1949-2010)
Jerry Smith, who passed last month at 61, always reminded me of people I knew in college who were manifestly brighter than I was, yet liked me anyway, and listened to my opinions, and brought out the best in others.
Centuries from now, children will still be pondering the faces of their ancestors, immortalized by Jerry and his longtime partner, Stephanie Riegel, who preceded him in 2008.
Over the years, Smith and Riegel distributed 8×10 printed enlargements of photos to their own subjects. They became locally famous for this, drawing crowds of jostling children wherever they went in the Atitlán Basin. Most of the parents were too poor to lose a day’s work and hire a studio photographer to do this for them, but Smith and Riegel never charged a choca. CD collections of their photos are still available in bookstores.
Smith and Riegel owned many Revue magazine photo credits. It was my privilege to collaborate with Jerry on myriad occasions. For me as a writer in search of an image, he was my stitch in time.
His do-gooding did not end with the free photos. Jerry, whose knowledge of the Maya was encyclopedic, was dedicated to them personally. The Canada Maya Scholarship called him the “anchor” of its project in Guatemala. He built the internet blogs, scouted scholarship candidates, helped with formal interviews, photographed the students, collected their documents, befriended, monitored and advised.
This passion even diverted him from his own gainful employment as a structural engineer. In the old country, Jerry, a native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, refurbished mansions and customized yachts for the wealthy, but he also restored historical buildings, sometimes pro-bono.
He began visiting Guatemala in the ‘70s, and once told me that his permanent arrival in 2000 was a “millennial transition.” But whatever his motives, he was as sanguine as they come: warm, affable, never angry, nonplussed by his own generosity, and able to converse with dazzling erudition on any topic. He was also conspicuous for his grasp of software arcanities; I habitually introduced him as the world’s foremost computer expert over the age of 25.
In his senses of humor and of irony, he had few peers. His talk was always at the level of ideas; with little preamble, Jerry might accost you in the street with his latest take on an archeological find or a world event. We will miss him terribly.
Visit Jerry Smith’s website: www.atitlan.net