Charlie Smith dedicated his life to fighting for equality, dignity and justice for people with disabilities. He shared his time and heart freely and his efforts have impacted countless lives. In this article we have pieced together a portrait, or collage of snapshots, in an attempt to convey what Charlie meant to our lives, in his work and in his friendships.
Nicole Roberts, Access Press Columnist and Friend:
I’ll never forget in June 1990 when I spotted the first issue of Access Press. I called the editor and told him a newspaper was just what we needed to organize and harness the strength of the disabled community. Shyly, the editor asked me what I honestly thought about the paper. I confided that it was a little dry. I said it needed something besides all the politics, something fun like horoscopes, personals or Dear Abby. He agreed and asked me if I would write a Dear Abby-like column. I really didn’t feel up to giving advice and said I was sure he could find someone much wiser to do it. Charlie reluctantly agreed to look for someone else but, when the second issue of Access Press still had no Dear Abby,
I offered to give it a try. “Hello Nicole” began in issue number three. From our first conversation to our last, Charlie has been a loving and supportive friend. Thank you, Charlie, for your immense care and for helping me find my strength.
Jimmie Hanson, Friend:
I’ll always remember when Charlie called and asked if I had received a pass for the Mill City Music Festival. I told him no, and he asked, “How would you like to go as the official Access Press photographer?” My response was to say, “Yes, but Charlie, you have to understand, I don’t take photos.” I had never taken a picture in my life. Charlie said, “That’s not an issue, just be sure to bring a camera.” So I borrowed a camera from a friend and jerry-rigged it so I could use it. I decided if I’m going as the Access Press photographer I might as well TRY to take some pictures. As it turned out, I was so satisfied with the first three photos I took that I entered them in the Sister Kenny Art Show. They won an honorable mention award. I’ve been taking pictures ever since.
Luther Granquist, Attorney, Disability Law Center:
If there is one thing that struck me about Charlie it was his good humor. I don’t recall in all of the times I’ve talked with him him not having a smile. What a good natured, intelligent man. An extraordinary advocate.
Martha Hage, Friend:
The time I’ll remember is when the seven of us were in the Governor’s office demonstrating against cuts in the PCA program. We were asked to leave. Charlie repeated that we were not leaving until we got to talk to the Governor. Well, we were arrested and they were going to take us to jail but they couldn’t arrange transportation Metro Mobility wouldn’t take us because we hadn’t called two weeks in advance.
Craig Dunn, Executive Director, VSA arts of Minnesota:
“What do you mean, ‘Notes from the Editor is ranked #7!'”, said Charlie with feigned disgust, as he called me to let me know that I had won one of the prizes for responding to the Reader’s Survey a couple of years ago. I told him everything else in the paper was so good I read the other things first but eventually got back to his section too. Charlie always had a great sense of humor. I will fondly remember the times we worked together. The community has lost a hard-working and committed asset and he will be missed.
Nathan Halvorson, Access Press Staff:
One of Charlie’s many gifts is that he was an awesome uncle to his nephews and neices. I’ll always remember how he would perch Alexander on his shoulders and they would zoom down the hall, or his earnest smile as he would say hi to Renee.
Jim Ramnaraine, Friend
Charlie never took life too seriously, he always had fun.
Lolly Lijewski, Friend:
Interdependence: Charlie and I had gone to see a movie and I needed some money so we found an ATM. It was too high for him to reach and the machine had a touch screen with no buttons for me to feel. Charlie had to direct me where to put my finger on the screen to perform the appropriate operation. Charlie said, “A little farther up. That’s right, now more to your left, a fourth of an inch to the left, down a little farther, about half an inch to the right…” I wondered what someone who might be in earshot but not able to see what we were doing might think… Thanks, Charlie, for sharing your life with me and being my friend. Your passing leaves a hole in my soul that only time will heal.
Donna MacNamara, Former Access Press Staff:
Charlie really lived in the present which helped him be a good political strategist, because he could deal with the situation at hand without getting bogged down in the past or worrying about the future. One of the funny things I will remember about Charlie is seeing him whizzing out the door at 10:05 for a 10:00 meeting somewhere. He was late for everything!
Tim Benjamin, Friend and Access Press Editor:
I want to remember Charlie as a kind, intelligent man who was able to teach through laughter. Charlie was a listener. I never heard him get loud with his own opinion. However, he did get loud giving voice to all of us in the disability community, especially those of us without the knowledge, strength, or motivation to speak out for ourselves. That is who Charlie was to me.
Rick Cardenas, Friend:
Charlie and I would always bump into each other at the music festivals and blues festivals and we would bitch about how hard it was to get a beer, but how nice it was looking at the women. So now I’ll have to work twice as hard for the beer and look at that many more women, ’cause now I’ll be looking for Charlie, too.
Dorothy Balen, Friend:
When I first met Charlie and his family back in the late ’60’s, he was the “Party Charlie.” It was his charm, dry sense of humor, and great music selection that first attracted me. I learned how to drink wine at his home. When I moved after college, I didn’t see Charlie for almost 10 years. When I ran into him at a disability conference, it was amazing we were able to resume our friendship as if no time had passed. But now it was the dedicated and committed Charlie I got to know. Charlie the editor, Charlie the activist and advocate for disability rights. Who would have thought that we’d both become involved in disability rights? My favorite latest memories of Charlie were when we would get into a conversation at an Advisory Committee meeting and the chairperson would threaten to separate us if we didn’t pay closer attention to the agenda topic. We’d just look at each other like: “What’s the problem?” I do and will continue to miss Charlie, but I believe his spirit lives on in his family, friends and business associates, and so Charlie will never be far away.”
Steve Kuntz, Friend and Access Press Board member:
It was my good fortune to have known Charlie since the late ’70’s. Charlie early on was not going to let the fact that he was in a chair get in the way of living. He was so unique in his understanding and acceptance of his disability and not using it to feel sorry for himself, but to energize him. When I think of Charlie I think of his smile, his sense of humor, and the endless political discussions about disability and social issues. Charlie had a very strong sense of right and wrong, and he was willing to take these convictions to the powers that be and challenge their thinking. I loved Charlie’s entrepreneurial soul. Very few people can take their passion and interests and make a business out of it like Charlie was able to with Access Press. We all have to face our mortality, but we all hope that we leave a legacy, a positive part of us that will live on. I have lost a friend and the community has lost a champion of the underdog. God speed Charlie, God Speed.
Margot Imdieke Cross, Friend and Access Press Board member:
His quiet determination, his total commitment, his humor, his critical perspective, his questioning nature, the sparkle in his eyes, his constant presence, his vast knowledge, his playful nudging, his uncompromising work ethic, his good friendship, that incredible smile and his inability to take no for an answer. Charlie, you were a remarkable man, I was honored to have known you and to have been your friend.
If you have a “snapshot” of Charlie you would like to add please write it down and send it to us at Access Press.