I had the pleasure of hiring Dan Smith to be the City’s Economic Director in February 2008. Today, I went to his calling hours after he lost his 15 month battle with brain cancer.
Together, with a handful of others, we made up what Dan liked to call “Team Kent.” This was a group of like minded people dedicated to giving downtown Kent a second chance. I think the whole community was part of Dan’s Team Kent.
It’s safe to say that the success of downtown Kent even exceeded Dan’s compulsively optimistic view of the world. Yet without Dan around to enjoy it, it seems a lot smaller.
It’s not possible to sum up Dan’s legacy in a paragraph or two, his personality and impact was too big to fit within the margins of the page but I feel like his contributions deserve to be honored and I’m happy to offer a few of my favorite Dan stories.
In looking back at what made Dan such a success in Kent I think a lot of it came from the fact that he had so much in common with the community he served. Just like Kent he was an eclectic guy with a REALLY wide range of interests and hobbies. His after hours guitar licks and bad stage jokes were as legendary as the PowerPoint pitches he produced in his day job. He was a competitive soccer player, railroad train buff, and gun enthusiast who could jump out of his suit and into a Hawaiian print shirt in a heartbeat.
Dan was just as comfortable riding his motorcycle and talking about his latest car restoration project as he was helping people write up business plans and explaining investment programs. He was a guy with a blue collar work ethic, strong family values and a Kent State education that prepared him for whatever came his way and helped make him accessible to people from all corners of the community.
Whenever an ambassador was needed to represent Kent, Dan’s name was at the top of the list and he was always first in line to volunteer. That’s just the kind of guy he was; service wasn’t his job it was how he lived his life. That’s a real gift.
I think one of the secrets to Dan’s success was that no matter the setting, he never tried to be something he wasn’t. He was genuine and authentic to a fault. He wasn’t perfect but his imperfections made him real and they became what we loved most about him. He stayed true to himself and the community, and I don’t know if Dan picked up some of Kent’s best traits or if he brought out the best of Kent — either way it was a great fit for both.
Dan inherently understood the privilege of what it meant to serve his community. He took that responsibility seriously but he never took himself too seriously or let the daily grind beat him down. Dan provided our daily dose of optimism and together we used humor to laugh our way out of every insurmountable problem.
I think he’d admit that he was an entertainer at heart and his greatest satisfaction came from putting smiles on people’s faces and joy in their hearts.
That’s how I think he would measure the meaning of his life.
That’s why I’ll miss Dan every day.