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Rick Smith, 1944 - 2021
Artist, Dreamer, Caretaker, Curmudgeon
June 10, 2021

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efore passing away in April, Rick Smith noted his greatest failure, telling partner Mary Maxwell that he had failed to convince her that saltine crackers were a staple combining all major food groups. He was 76.

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A classic image of Rick Smith.

Rick was an artist, adventurer, and caretaker. He was possessed of a dry sense of humor, quick wit, and a distinctive walrus mustache that graced his face for more than 50 years. His business card, complete with a self portrait prominently featuring his mustache, listed a number of his character traits: “Cynic, Critic, Curmudgeon, Agnostic, Aging hippie, Bleeding Heart liberal, Ex-peace corps volunteer, Dreamer, Woodworker, All-around good guy.”

Mary added “…being an Independent should be recorded in all capital letters.”

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Rick Smith professed a candid description of his persona on his business cards.

Rick began life in the small town of Thomaston, GA, 60 miles south of Atlanta, on July 1, 1944. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English Literature. Instead of using his degree to become a teacher, Rick joined the Peace Corps, spending 3 years with the organization in Afghanistan.

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Those who knew Rick have no trouble identifying him (second from right) in this Peace Corps photo from Afghanistan. The clarifying features of his personality are evident in this photo from more than 50 years ago.

After returning stateside, he became a self-taught cabinet maker. He eventually came to care for his mother, who’d suffered a stroke, and his sister, who had developmental issues. Realizing cabinet making was feast or famine, Rick sought a more stable means of employment to take care of his family.

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Rick at several Oriental events, from the TownDock.net archives.

Rick entered the School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta at 45 years of age. He earned a Bachelor’s degree, propelling him into a career of caring for patients recovering from cardiac surgeries. Mary, whom he met through mutual friends, worked in nuclear medicine.

They retired from medicine nearly 15 years ago. At his memorial service, Oriental Commissioner Dianne Simmons recalled meeting Rick when he was a restaurant server. She said he’d been waiting on her table, talking with her and the other guests at her table, when he was fired. “So he sat down and joined us.”

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Rick Smith and Partner Mary Maxwell drive their Mini in the 2011 Croaker Festival Parade.

That connection with Simmons, now a Commissioner in Oriental, brought Rick and Mary to Oriental. They came not for the sailing opportunities, but for the community and spirit of camaraderie among the residents. That was in 2010.

“He always said he wanted to design a house,” said Mary. “I told him to do it. He spent a few years doing that and took his drawings to an architect.” Those drawings were translated into the home he and Mary shared just west of Oriental in Horton’s Landing.

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The home Rick designed for his and Mary’s retirement had many novel features, including opposing lofts at each end of the structure. It is decorated with art, much of it his own such as the fabric covered canoe which was featured in a wooden boating magazine.

When their home was first built, Rick employed his cabinet making skills to build all the kitchen cabinets and bathroom cabinets, in addition to the window and door trims for their new house. Sans workshop, he covered their living room floor with cardboard for these endeavors. “I finally persuaded him to move his wood working to the front porch,” said Mary, “until he was able to design and build his own shop here in the yard.”

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Rick in Radio Play at the Old Theater, 2011.

Their home is adorned with Rick’s creations. Masks, mostly constructed in the last year, adorn the living room wall. A canoe he built in the basement of his Atlanta home – Dacron polyester stretched over steamed and bent strips of wood – hangs from the living room wall. Boxes with lids, some in the shape of a 1950s vintage camper, a duck, and other oddities are on display throughout.

Rick participated in many local cultural events, from productions at the old theater to a role in the Piping Pipers who marched in the Spirit of Christmas parades. He also became a regular at The Bean, solving the world’s problems in hard-hitting, in-depth conversations with Ron Stevens, Bob Miller, and Roger Bullis, to name a few. Mary said, “And he just loved June, a former barista there.”

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It’s a winter morning at The Bean (December 11, 2019)… Rick takes in a newspaper. Dave Cox looks on.
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Mary Maxwell holds a self-sculpture from clay Rick created long before he began to construct whimsical masks.

For his 70th birthday, Mary arranged a surprise party at the Silos Restaurant with his friends. The guests all wore Groucho Marx glasses, complete with nose and mustache. When he walked into the surprise, in true Rick form, he turned to Mary and said, “If this weren’t so damn funny I would be pissed off.”

In recent years, with age and health making their impact, Mary said Rick spent less time in his wood working shop and more time in his loft studio in their home crafting whimsical masks.

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Rick’s desk, his collections, and a wooden box he made in the shape of a camper trailer.

A few years ago, Rick traveled through the Great Lakes area, camping as he went, crossing Canada to arrive in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mary flew there to return with him. They visited the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology where Rick was enamored with a mask exhibit highlighting different cultures.

“In the last year, he kept talking about those masks,” Mary said, “ordered a mold, and taught himself how to create faces of many designs. They were so good and so interesting. I ordered him a wood burnishing tool so he could sign each work, but he never used it.”

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A collection of a few of Rick’s mask creations.

At the memorial service, Bob Miller recollected all the many different Rick Smiths:

“Remembering him is to think not of Rick as one, rather many Ricks. There is:
“Rick of a small town in Georgia who, like many Ricks, left to explore a wider world,
“Rick of adventure who joined the Peace Corps and went to Afghanistan,
“Rick the cabinet maker,
“Rick the nurse who gave comfort and care,
“Rick of the road trip, compelled to see all,
“Sir Rick of the Bean, whose presence always stimulated good conversion,
“Rick of the men’s book club, the only English Literature graduate, meaning we had one member who knew what we were talking about,
“Rick of the Saturday beer club on my deck, and most importantly,
“Rick my friend.”

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Rick had such a distinctive personality, friends and relatives often gifted him with objects d’art which seemed to describe one or more of his character traits. Mary, wearing a Groucho Marx set of eyebrows, glasses, and mustache, exhibits a statue given to Rick by his Aunt, Bobbie Meston and her daughter, Kelli.

Miller also recited lines from Scottish poet Robert Burns, who had written about a friend of his who had passed. Bob said, “This rings true for Rick.”

An honest man here lies at rest
As e’er God with his image blest;
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informed:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

One of Rick’s friends observed, “He lived a life worth living.”

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Rick (front) and Ralf Heit as Rigor & Mortise serving Resurrection Chili at the 2014 Chili Cook-off.


Story by Ben Casey & Allison DeWeese. Photos by Ben Casey, Melinda Penkava, Keith N. Smith and provided by the family.

Posted Thursday June 10, 2021 by Ben Casey


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