Radiant. That is the word to describe B. Smith as she walked up to the VIP entrance at Sayre Park on a perfect-sunset July evening in 2015, turning heads and somehow elevating the energy of an already frenetic scene. She was to be the honoree at Dan’s Taste of Two Forks later that night—a tribute not only to the eponymous restaurants she had once opened in Sag Harbor, New York City and Washington, D.C., but also to her far-reaching influence and success in myriad fields. And in that arrival moment was joy and celebration that, recently, had not been easy to come by for Smith. “This is a good day, a really good day,” she said with a big smile as a crowd started to gather behind her, almost in procession.
A year earlier, Barbara Smith had shared with the world news of her battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and as she and husband Dan Gasby strolled into the Taste of Two Forks tent, fans and admirers snapping photos and offering handshakes and hugs and well wishes, she spoke about the range of emotions she’d been feeling leading up to this night. Sadness and fear, to be sure, but also glimmers of happiness. As she stood beside the stage before ascending the few steps to speak and accept her award, she raised her eyebrows, nodded out at the crowd and flashed, again, that smile. “A really good day,” she repeated.
When Smith died on February 22 at age 70, the sadness was joined by countless memories of really good days Smith gave to so many. Having begun her career as a fashion model—in July 1976 she became only the second black model to ever appear on the cover of Mademoiselle—she went on to grand success as a restaurateur, author of cookbooks and entertaining tomes (B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends, B. Smith’s Rituals and Celebrations, B. Smith Cooks Southern Style), a TV personality and host of B. Smith with Style, and a lifestyle maven who created lines of furniture and bedding, and levels of inspiration that cannot be calculated. She even dabbled in acting, taking a role in the off-Broadway production of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore (which debuted here at East Hampton’s Guild Hall in 2008).
Smith’s presence on any stage, in any room, was always accompanied by grace and good humor, and a knowledge that she had created a platform from which to inspire and educate. Working with her husband Dan Gasby and Vanity Fair editor Michael Shnayerson, one of her most enduring works became the 2016 book Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s, in which she talked about her challenges and struggles with the disease that she battled until the end.
Smith will be missed, and never forgotten.