As Houstonians prepare to pay their respects to beloved philanthropist Lester Smith on March 18, his widely circulated farewell and autobiographical obituary is eliciting tears — and laughs.
Smith, who with his wife, Sue, was one of the most generous and legendary benefactors in Houston’s history and an icon of local society, passed away on March 14 at his Houston home.
Published reports included biographical information, such as his colossal success in oil; how he married the love of his life, Sue, and became a proud family man; gave more than $150 million to local charities and organizations; battled three bouts of cancer, and required a double lung transplant.
But few were prepared for his personal — and dryly clever — message to his friends, family, and supporters. “I always lived by the motto, ‘anything worth doing is worth over-doing,’ Smith begins. “Well, I think I went too far this time!”
The comedy continues as he sends a message from the Great Beyond:
As of March 14, 2019, I am no longer around. Unless you have special connections — and I know some of you do — I can no longer be reached by email, phone, text, Snapchat (whatever that is) or any other social media platform. Maybe I can be reached by iCloud— because who really knows what that is, or where it is — and who the heck manages it? Maybe that’s what I will do now – manage the iCloud. But I digress, as is — or was — my custom.
In addressing his mortality, Smith unapologetically notes: “I have truly had an incredible life and honestly, I go out with a bang, not with a whimper as the poet wrote.”
No one can tell Smith’s story better than Smith himself, as evidenced by his description of his early beginnings.
It all started with examples set by my parents Rosalie and Maynard Smith and a small Jewish community in Wharton, Texas where I was born August 16, 1942. Along with my brothers Alec and Stephen, we were raised to work hard and to always remember those with less. I am really grateful that our parents set us all on the path of life with compassion and kindness at its core.
Not one to get too serious, he asks wife, Sue, an awkward, but important question: “Did you really bring a date to my funeral as you threatened?”
And then, the tear-jerker from the ballroom dancer to his adoring dance partner:
You were with me every step of the way, from our first steps on a ballroom floor to the steps you have helped me take after many illnesses and surgeries. Your love made me a better man and truly a better human being. That’s what you do, Sue. You really bring out the best in everyone. I have been the luckiest man alive to be loved by you.
Poignant messages to his children, family, and staff follow. (A cheeky reminder of a “non-disclosure clause” is mentioned to potentially talkative individuals.)
Finally, an admonishment and challenge to all Houstonians, one that can be taken to heart and used as daily motivation.
Don’t send flowers, please. DO go out and do what you can to help out a friend or total stranger in need. Go out and make someone smile.
Go out and “dance like no one’s watching” and make the most of each and every moment. In the end, we can all agree, life is one helluva precious ride.
Bravo, Mr. Smith. May our own ride be as impactful and graceful as yours — and may we all dance like no one is watching.
Services for Lester Smith will be held noon, Monday, March 18, at Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 N. Braeswood Blvd.