No one who knew Jerry Smith, who died while jogging in Cheyenne Canyon on Dec. 20, was surprised by the nature of his passing.
As longtime friend and associate Kathleen Collins said on Wednesday, “Jerry was a doer — he was always doing something — so of course he didn’t die in bed! He just wouldn’t have stood for it.”
Stephen Jerrard Smith was born in Baltimore on Dec. 2, 1940. Despite being blessed with such a grand name, he went by Jerry — a nickname as straightforward and unpretentious as the man himself.
At the time of his death, he was the CEO of Pikes Peak United Way. It was a position that another person might have regarded as the pinnacle of a career, but for Jerry it was simply a job that needed doing, and he thought — knew — that he was the best person to do it.
Jerry first arrived in Colorado Springs in 1975, as an executive with Western Forge. A man of wide-ranging interests, including gardening, fishing and music, he became passionately devoted to this community. He joined the Symphony Council, then the Symphony Board and soon became chairman.
Collins, who was then the Symphony’s development director, was struck by Smith’s leadership qualities.
“Jerry was the kind of ideal, generous of spirit, board member that every nonprofit dreams of,” she said. “He was graceful but tough-minded, and he loved the music, and the musicians and everyone who was involved. He was approachable, he worked hard and he just delighted in participating — he didn’t give all of his time, and raise money and give parties for any reason other than his love of the music, and of the community.”
Jim Ringe, then a senior city official, sat on the board with Jerry.
“There was a rule that said that you could only serve two terms as board chair, but Jerry was so good that we waived the rule and begged him to serve one more term, and he let us talk him into it,” Ringe said. “Jerry was a real workhorse — he didn’t put off things, he threw himself into whatever he was doing, and he was just compelled to make the city a better place, to make any organization he was involved with better. He was a good businessman, but that was just a part of him — not the whole man.”
Business commitments forced Jerry to leave Colorado Springs for several years in the late 1980s, but he soon returned — this time as president of Western Forge. Passionately dedicated to the betterment of the community, he founded the Pikes Peak Leadership Summit, a forum that enables community leaders to work together and deal with issues that affect the region.
In 2001, Jerry retired from Western Forge, but his retirement ended abruptly when he became CEO of United Way.
County Commissioner Sallie Clark remembers Jerry’s ability to lead complex, contentious community projects.
“When we started working on the RTA issue (the Rural Transportation Authority), Jerry let us use the boardroom at United Way, and he became the glue that held everything together,” she said. “Without Jerry, I don’t know that we could have put it together and gotten the voters to approve it. He had such stature in the community. He could talk to everyone, he got along with everybody and he cared so deeply about everyone — not just the rich and the powerful, although he could move in those circles, but the people that United Way helps.”
Jerry also wasn’t afraid to take a stand, Clark said. One example was his support for Referendum C.
“He could have dodged it, said we’re a nonprofit and we don’t get into politics, but he jumped right in,” she said. “Now that he’s gone, I don’t know who’s going to lead this community the way Jerry did — with real compassion, with commitment, and he was so good at what he did.”
Vicki Dimond, who was Jerry’s companion for the last five years, spoke affectionately about his struggles with the marauding deer who loved his garden as much as he did.
“One summer, he had a slingshot, and hit a deer right in hindquarters with a steel ball — and the deer just looked at him, and kept on eating,” she said. “Then he tried a cap gun, and then he put up a fence, and the deer just jumped over it. And then he electrified the fence-but the fence started a brushfire. So the neighbors told him that they loved his garden, but they didn’t want their houses to burn down. I don’t know what he was planning for next spring.”
Collins, who persuaded Jerry to join the board of the Opera Theater of the Rockies, remembers the parties that Jerry gave to introduce the organization to his friends, neighbors and acquaintances.
“He had the soul of an artist — everything he did was done with such an artistic and wonderful flair — these wonderful gatherings, with his garden and the little divas from the opera,” she said. “He was such a delightful friend — to me, to everyone, to the whole community.”
Jerry Smith is survived by his daughters, Angela Smith of Lenox, Mass., and Stephanie Smith of Toronto, his mother Doris Smith, his brother Samuel Smith, and his friend and companion Vicki Dimond.
A Memorial Service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 29 at Grace Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, friends consider a donation to United Way.
“You’d better get there early — it’ll be standing room only,” Clark said, her face still streaked with tears after an emotional meeting with the United Way staff.
So she’ll be there, as will hundreds, even thousands, of others to say goodbye to this remarkable man, who will be so fondly remembered, and so often missed.
“His was a life well-lived and fully realized,” Collins said, “and one which ended much too soon.”