Barbara Elaine Smith, restaurateur, model, author, entrepreneur, and lifestyle guru died on February 22 in East Hampton of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Her prolonged battle with the disease was the subject of the book “Before I Forget” published in 2016. She wrote it with her husband, Dan Gasby, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson.
Smith was born on August 24, 1949, in Everson, PA to William Smith, a steelworker, and Florence (Claybrook) Smith, a maid who had a love of interior design that she hoped, one day, to turn into a professional pursuit.
“I inherited a paper route, I sold magazines, had lemonade stands, I was a candy striper and into fundraising,” Smith recalled. “I’ve always enjoyed being busy.”
When she was barred from joining the Future Homemakers of America because of her race, she started her own home-economics club, naming herself president, she told Lifestyle magazine.
Smith began modeling after graduating from high school, appearing in fashion shows in Pittsburgh department stores.
It was early in her modeling career that Smith shortened her first name to the initial “B.” She was signed by the prestigious Wilhelmina Models agency in New York City and began appearing on magazine covers and in print ads. She was shown multiple times on the covers of Ebony and Essence. In July of 1976, she became only the second black model to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle.
Her business empire included restaurants, television shows, magazines, a furniture line for the La-Z-Boy company, and a bedding, tableware, and bath products collection in partnership with Bed Bath & Beyond. She also wrote several books on cooking and entertaining.
Smith was perhaps best known for her restaurants. In the 1980s, while working for the Ark Restaurants group, she impressed management with her work so much they agreed to help her start her own restaurant. It’s how her famous Manhattan restaurant, B. Smith’s, came to be. It was there she met her second husband and business partner, Dan Gasby.
She opened a successful offshoot of her original New York restaurant in Washington, D.C., and then a third on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.
Smith, radiant as always, enjoyed mingling with guests, approaching diners, and quizzing them about the fare. It was not unusual for her to help, either, running into the kitchen for dressing or to hurry along a drink order.
The Sag Harbor house on Soundview Drive overlooking Sag Harbor Bay, which she and Gasby bought shortly after their marriage in 1992, was a showpiece, renovated at least twice and the scene of several TV shows featuring celebrity guests.
A first marriage, to HBO Senior Vice President Don Anderson, ended in divorce. He predeceased her in 2018.
Smith is survived by Gasby, her stepdaughter Dana Gasby, and brothers Ronald and Dennis Smith.