Talk with people about C.W. Smith and — once they move past the shock and sadness over his death this past Sunday — they’ll usually end up laughing. He had that effect on you.
It was impossible to know C.W. and not feel like he was a friend, even when you didn’t agree with him. He’d give you that hound-dog look, maybe say, “Why’re you picking on me?” and then the next thing you know he be telling you some cornpone joke.
“He always had a joke, whether it was a good joke or a bad joke, he always had one,” remembered his close friend Ron Burgess.
Rosemary Harrington, who was a co-host with C.W. on the early morning KCMX talk radio show, saw the same side of him bright and early in the day. It could take him a while to get going, she remembered, but then it was Katie-bar-the-door.
“No one could tell a story like C.W.,” she said, “And no one enjoyed his stories as much as C.W. did. ... . To know him was to love him.”
In the story we ran Tuesday, she called him “the sweetest man.”
You get a lot of that sentiment from people across the spectrum. He probably had enemies, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many outside of those that he helped put behind bars as Jackson County sheriff from 1983 to 1995.
“Once you knew him, he was a friend of yours,” Burgess said. “He never held anything against anybody.”
Don Skundrick, who served two years with C.W. as a Jackson County commissioner after C.W. gave up the cop business and jumped into politics, concurs. In an email, he called him “one of the nicest, funniest and ‘sneaky’ smartest fellows one would want to know.”
He was all of those nice things people said about him, Skundrick said, but he also was a very good commissioner.
“He loved the people of Jackson County,” Skundrick wrote, “but his “smarts” really came to the front when timber issues were involved. I know that I didn’t know any other layman with a greater grasp of just how important solving Oregon’s timber issues were, not only to Jackson County but regionally as well. Dub was fierce in his passion but in a sincere and open sort of way.”
C.W.’s passion and humor faded behind the cloud of Alzheimer’s in his final year on this planet, a cruel and unjust ending for a man who gave so much of himself to others. I have no doubt that had the Alzheimer’s Association asked him in prior years to emcee a fundraiser, he would have done it — and for all I know maybe he did, as he did for seemingly just about every nonprofit in Jackson County at one time or another. He was all you could want in an emcee, self-deprecating, funny and ultimately sincere. The audience members would laugh with him, listen to him, and wind up writing a bigger check than they planned.
Burgess — who deserves credit himself for regularly visiting C.W. in his final year — said some of the best stories C.W. told were perhaps not always suitable for publication in a family newspaper. A member of the Chickasaw tribe, he was proud of his heritage and of his parents, both of whom were deaf. But he inflicted his humor on them as well.
He told Burgess of the time when, as a teenager, he took a friend over to his parents’ house, where they enjoyed his mom’s pie. When they finished, the friend asked how to say thank-you in sign language. C.W. showed him and the friend signed the message, “This pie tastes like ----.” Let’s just say the last word was not “heaven.”
C.W.’s mom knew where the message originated and gave C.W. a whack up the side of the head. Fortunately for all of us, she didn’t knock the humor out of him. She knew, as we all came to know, that humor was really love.
Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.