This time of year, when the sun returns full-strength, I always remember my friend Charlie Smith; he was a sun lover, and like most quadriplegics, he said the warmth comforted his bones.
I remember Charlie Smith as a kind, intelligent man who was always able to teach through his actions. I never heard Charlie get loud with his own opinion. He did get loud giving voice to all of us in the disability community. That is who
|Charles F. Smith
Born: June 23, 1953
Died: April 24, 2001
Charlie was: the guy giving voice to those of us who did not have the knowledge, strength, or the motivation to speak out for ourselves. He was a true leader, although I do not think Charlie ever thought of himself as a leader. I know that his goal was to make life easier for people with disabilities. Maybe he also knew that if it was easier for others, it would be easier for him—but his interest was in others.
Charlie Smith was energized by politics; he looked forward to the legislative session, and to the opportunity to talk to people who could change his life and the life of every person with a disability. Charlie was there on the hill, educating and convincing public officials about so many of the rights that we have today. Charlie was there when public transportation became accessible. Charlie was there when the PCA program began. He was there to fight a governor when it looked as though the PCA program was going to be eliminated. Charlie created Access Press to keep the disability community informed of what was happening at the capitol and to give the entire disability community a forum for topical discussion of any kind pertaining to any disability. There are many topics out there right now that could use Charlie’s passion for open dialogue and his fearlessness to force the discussion into the mainstream of our community.
He recognized the need for people in the disability community to hold their heads high with dignity and pride and through dignity and pride, create a community that was proud of who they were. Proud people, he knew, aren’t ashamed or afraid to demand their rights or to demand equality among all people.
As a journalist, Charlie did not hesitate to ask the difficult questions, and he knew when to back off to give an interviewee enough room, in the true Charlie style, to let them hang themselves with their own words. He was never afraid of dialogue and often would take the opposing position while maintaining his own integrity and values, just to get a good dialogue started. Charlie knew the value of getting people talking about uncomfortable issues. He intuitively knew that, no matter how “off the wall” someone’s opinion might be, it was worth it to push for that discussion. As soon as the dialogue began, Charlie became the listener. If things got too heated, Charlie was the one who could break the tension with a joke and a smile. His jokes and smiles often did break the tension, from the governor’s office to someone’s smoke-filled basement card room.
There was a time when it seemed you could not go anywhere with Charlie without running into someone that knew him. His network of friends, colleagues and admirers covered the disability community from coast-to-coast.
If it sounds like I have described a superhero—well, in a way, Charlie was one. And now, Access Press, Charlie Smith’s creation, is asking you to look around the community and nominate another person who exemplifies these same powerful traits. Every November for the last four years, we have honored an individual or group for their achievements. Charlie would be very proud to be grouped with these folks but more importantly Charlie Smith would be the guy first in line to honor them for their successes and contributions. Perhaps in November we will recognize your nominee for the fifth annual Charlie Smith Award.