Gary Smith, Longtime NPR Greeter, 57
When I think of Gary, a Monday morning in the fall of 2005 stands out. I was just back from Pittsburgh, having watched our beloved Steelers get crushed by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers fell to 7-5 for the season. Their playoff hopes were gone.
I thought Gary and I would share a painful moment in the lobby. But when I walked in, there was Gary ... smiling. Before I could get in a word, Gary looked at me and said: "They're still going to win the Super Bowl, David." I thought Gary was crazy, and I told him that.
This is when the Steelers began an improbable run. Four straight wins to sneak into the playoffs as an underdog. Three playoff wins on the road. And then, victory in Super Bowl XL. Somehow, even on what seemed like a dark day, Gary knew everything would be OK. And that's the kind of friend he was.
After my mother, a fellow Steelers fanatic, passed away, Gary made it a routine to call my cell phone on Sundays. He knew how much I missed talking to my mom during games — and he wanted me to know I still had a fellow fan on the line whenever I needed one.
After that Super Bowl win, the Steelers came to the White House for the customary congratulatory handshake from the president. It was an event I just couldn't have attended without Gary. So there we were, the two of us, walking up to the White House with our Terrible Towels, high-fiving when we spotted our favorite players.
Gary was overwhelmed, seeing his favorite team and visiting the White House. And yet, he was worrying more about me. I wanted star running back Jerome Bettis to sign a Terrible Towel for my mother, since Jerome was Mom's favorite player. Knowing how important this was to me, Gary was not going to leave the White House until I got that signature. I think he was prepared to take on the Secret Service — fortunately, that wasn't necessary.
Gary loved his family. He loved his friends, and I feel so lucky to count myself as one. And he loved people — here's a man who asked for so little, and yet was willing to spread love to strangers who walked through those glass doors. I hope Gary's family takes comfort in knowing how much love he shared, and knowing how many people have been lifted up by his smile.
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