Thursday, February 12, 2009
After the procession and flag raising and the multitude of preparations, came the actual memorial for Jeff Smith inside the vast warehouses of the former Little Lake Industries. The announcement in the paper simply invited "family and friends" to come here at 3 PM on Sunday. The city limits of Willits contains about 5000 people. The planners of the event were wise to anticipate about two thousand guests. For more images of the memorial setting, click here for my Overflow blog.
Half a dozen speakers told their stories, and eulogized the man. His professional gifts were widely known. He had been awarded an unprecedented two Medals of Valor from the California State Firefighters Association; once for retrieving a man from a "fully engaged" burning fuel truck wreck, and most recently for intervening as a gunman shot two women and then himself. Jeff saved the life of one of those women, but he was the sort who never felt he deserved the medals. As one speaker said, he was a low visibility guy in a high visibility job. A similar spirit has recently been demonstrated by Captain Sullenburger, who safely landed his passenger plane in the Hudson River, when he said he was just doing his job, and even though the event went as well as possible, he continued to imagine how he might have done better. Such humility combined with such competence inspires everyone graced to witness it, and Jeff Smith was all of that.
He was also a man of tremendous good humor and good will. Those of us who glimpsed it through his professional role and composure, and those endowed with his high-spirited friendship at play, will be forever grateful.