When Rick and I both worked at the Standard-Times, we really didn’t get to mingle much because I was on the night news desk and he, well, he was just where he should be, which is wherever the wind blew him.
But the most memorable thing is, whenever Rick walked into the newsroom in his incomparable loping style, the lights got lighter and the laughter got funnier and the joy glowed brighter.
He was — is — one of those rare humans who makes a room, you know?
My husband and I read his column every time we could get it. While living in other cities my mother-in-law would mail us his column. It was the thing we missed the most! Being such a deep rooted San Angelo native, it tickled me when he wrote specifically about San Angelo.
I remember one time down at the paper, Rick answered his desk phone and had a long (30+ minute) conversation with the person who called. My mom, Diane Murray, asked him if he had been talking to a source or family. Rick replied that it had been a wrong number. He is one of those people who can talk to anyone.
Rick got me started on frito pie. People would send him their frito pie recipes back when they posted comments on gosanangelo . I think he may have organized a frito pie cookoff. He loved to take a walk from Santa Rita to downtown and then write about what he saw. It was great. He favored a small grubbing hoe for chores on his farm. If you didn’t read anything else in the paper you read Rick.
Several years after becoming a widow I was wanting to go take photos of the bluebonnets. I was feeling sorry for myself and didn’t want to go alone. Being friends with Rick over the years I called and asked if the next time he took one of his “bluebonnet drives” he’d take me along. Two days later he called and said two ladies from Mass. had called the paper looking for a bluebonnet guide to take them to the Hill Country and did I want the job? It was a great four days. I met an amazing artist wanting to sketch bluebonnets, who eventually showed her work in private galleries in NYC and Fla. I got to stay in the Repunzel Room in a pretty B&B in Fredericksburg, where President Bush stayed once, and I took lots of bluebonnet photos and made a nice wage as well. Thanks Rick!!! Wishing you well!
A preface to my story: I bought a house a couple of years after I started working at the Standard-Times. I needed roommates to make ends meet. Rick and John Dewitt agreed to move in, much to my relief. Many people followed them in renting rooms in the house, but like in his work, Rick was unique as a housemate.
One story: We all worked until midnight and had little to do after work besides going to a bar since there was no 24-hour TV on cable, so we were left to our own devices to entertain ourselves. Luckily, Rick always had an idea for stuff to do.
He and John both had Toyota Land Cruisers, and they thought it would be fun to test their vehicles’ mettle by climbing hills and seeing how far they could drive them out onto the mudflats that had been North Concho Lake (O.C. Fisher Reservoir) during a drought.
That probably wasn’t the best idea because the mudflats were still a little soggy. Rick won (lost?) by venturing farther out onto the dry(ish) lake bed and burying his wheels up to the fenders. John went back to town to get a long enough chain to pull it out without getting bogged down himself.
Let me put it this way: It was a long night.
Here’s another: Rick and John left for other digs, but later Rick and Gary both found themselves in need of a place to live. All three bedrooms in the house were occupied at that time, but that didn’t stop the Smith brothers. Gary crashed in the front room and Rick fashioned the unheated garage (in the dead of winter) into a bedroom. He didn’t seem to mind that it was really cold in there. If he did, he never said.
An aside about the house: Rick got a board and fashioned it into a plaque that he presented to me for Christmas. I hung it by the door where it remained for the next 20 years. During that time, many people, mostly Standard-Times personnel lived there. Don’t ask me how many because I forgot to keep track, but it was a lot of people. They all walked past that plaque as they came and went. Here it is:
Spring of 1972, when Rick was Ricky and before we had become the best of friends, I was doing my internship at the Standard-Times and Rick was a young lad working in sports — well in those days, the funeral homes called in the obit info and any live body who picked up the phone took the info with the black phone receiver propped on their shoulder and held to their ear while they typed the info on a decrepit manual Royal typewriter.
So it was like my second day in the newsroom. I was green. Call came, I picked up, and the guy said he had an obit. I started asking the pertinent questions, and the (I thought) seasoned funeral home director fired the answers right back. I was working so hard to keep up, it didn’t occur to me that none of the information made sense until he said, “No arrangements yet. We still got him in the fridge.” I gasped and looked up, hoping someone in the newsroom could help me out of the mess. Three desks over was one Ricky Smith phone to ear dictating the fake obit.
So Rick, Dad and I went backpacking in the Grand Canyon for a week. It was your typical Smith Boy outing. Dad brought seven pairs of boxer shorts, weighing about 20 pounds. Rick brought no food except Nicholson’s beef jerky. I was greatly insulted, having spent countless hours at the REI perfecting my menu of powdered stroganoff and powdered beef stew and powdered cat chow and an assortment of other powdered items that all tasted vaguely similar. Dad brought an assortment of freeze-dried puddings that were useful in keeping the wildlife away. It must’ve been around day 3 that I started looking at that jerky. I negotiated a trade, some bland eight-dollar rice and chicken for a stick of jerky. The thing you have to understand about Nicholson’s beef jerky is that IT’S SO GOOD!!!! I know Standard-Times reporters who live in Mertzon just so they can be near the store. I spent the rest of the trip trying to steal his jerky and remembering exactly why he was the older and wiser brother.
But that’s not the story.
It’s maybe four hours from the canyon to my home. If you know the Smith Boys, we are not famous for our bladders of steel. We made a couple of stops at rest areas along the way, and all was well. Dad was riding shotgun, given his seniority in the trip, and Rick was in the back seat of my Honda. It must’ve been around the Phoenix city limits when I heard the mournful cry: “Can we stop somewhere?”
Normally, not a problem. But we had just hit Greater Phoenix on a weekday afternoon. It’s about an hour of insanity on the freeway. There’s not a good way to get off, or find a place to stop. “Can we stop?” comes again from the back. I was tired. We all smelled funny. “Almost there,” I assured him. “Need to stop,” he said forcefully. “Almost,” I said. And then he was silent. Too silent. “ummmmm, you OK?” I asked. “Fine!” he assured me. And from the back seat he held up a zip-lock back full of what might have been Gatorade in the family version of the story. I reminded myself for the millionth time never to match wits with the guy. We never spoke of it again.
They stayed overnight at my apartment, and I drove them to the airport the next morning. It was a good outing.
About a week later, I was looking in my empty refrigerator. I noticed there was something in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Would he? Could he? Did he leave me his extra jerky? What a nice guy.
I pulled out the crisper drawer, and there it was. The emergency pit-stop zip-lock baggy, its contents still intact. I never bought lettuce again.
And now whenever he wants to stop, we stop. Don’t want to annoy the guy. He might be packing jerky.
When Kate and I were impressionable 7 or 8 year olds, Rick (Dad) built a haunted house in the breakfast nook out of cardboard boxes. (You’d be amazed at how realistic you can get with boxes. Or how big you can make such a tiny room.) Halloween was probably one of his favorite holidays. Anyway, he must’ve felt like he hadn’t made it scary enough because he added a scarecrow made out of one of his painter suits stuffed with newspaper and a grotesque cold war-era gas mask. It sat in our living room all month.
One afternoon, when Melody Twombly was over, mom and dad had been in the living room while we played around in the haunted house. When we came out into the living room after, dad was alone so we assumed mom was off somewhere else. All of a sudden, the scarecrow twitched. Just for a second. We all exclaimed about it, dad turned around, and the scarecrow was still. He looked at us like we’d eaten too much candy. Then its hand slowly moved, and it twisted its goggled eyes in our direction as it (very convincingly) lurched to its feet. Dad saw this time, and yelled,
“IT’S ALIIIIIVE! RUN FOR IT! RUN!!”
Kate and Melody were gone in a second and I froze on the spot while it slowly dragged its way toward me. Just when I thought I was finished, mom laughed and took the mask off. I’m still convinced it was all dad’s idea. Also way to go mom — that theater degree wasn’t handed to her.
Needless to say it was survival of the fittest at the Smith house.
rick once went to interview the pilot of a rather suspect homemade airplane. the guy insisted that rick go up for a ride with him to experience it firsthand.
rick assured him that would not be necessary. the guy assured him that yes, it would be necessary indeed.
rick’s motto was that he would do anything for a column. so of course he went up on the flight despite being scared senseless (pro tip: never leave the ground in something with EXPERIMENTAL written on the wing) and lived to write the column.
I don’t know if he got to keep those sweet goggles.
In journalism, there’s a fine line between heroism and deadlines. rick could sure make a column soar …
Mom & I were at the farm just before an extended below-freezing weather week (7 for real days). Edie and two big brothers had been dumped out there.
We tried to coax them into the car with bologna. They were too fast — got the meat, evaded capture. We had to leave them. We worried all week.
On the next Saturday, I asked Rick to go see if they were alive. Sabrina (I think) told him before he left that to catch a Chihuahua, you had to lie down on your stomach and hold food, and it would come to you.
Rick got there with sliced turkey and ham. Edie was the only dog left of the three. Rick quickly ran out of meat. She was just too fast. Rick was afraid to come home without her. He got down on his stomach. She came to him. He grabbed her & threw her into the open pet carrier.
Her life of freedom on the open road ended that moment.
No one wants to speculate about what happened to the other 2 dogs, but Edie wasn’t really that skinny.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a journalist. Too many to count and some truly awful ones in my early days that still make me cringe 10 years later. At the Standard-Times, I joined a team and (eventually) had the pleasure of sitting next to Rick Smith.
Rick’s kindness meant the world to me.
To make me feel better, he once shared a story how as a young journalist he (in a rush to cover a fire) parked by a fire hydrant. The battalion chief kindly pointed it out to him.
I also found out, in a roundabout way, how Rick stuck up for me when a source bashed my work.
I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of people I saw or heard him interview and the attention he paid to people was incredible. Rick helped teach me how to really listen and that everyone has a story to tell.
I was Ram Page editor when this cute guy came into the newsroom where I was alone in Porter Henderson Library, said nothing, but smiled shyly, tossed a few pages on my desk and practically ran out of the room and down the hall.
I scanned what he had written and ran yelling and laughing after him. I’m old now and I can’t recall the story, but I’m proud to say that Rick credited me with launching his writing career.
Reading that piece, even as just a college senior, it was clear he was a huge talent. I treasure that memory.