And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will be just one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens...They will all be your friends.
—Antoine De Saint-Exupery
In Memory of Hank Smith (1943-2020)
Hank Smith embodied the meaning of community. He had unique skills and experience and he used them, but he always felt and acted like he was a part of something bigger than himself. He had a curiosity, a passion, a determination, a vision. Hank imagined the way things could be and then he went to work to make them so.
Hank was born on November 4, 1943 in the Bronx where, as a young boy, he played endless hours of “stoop ball” and then moved on to baseball and into Queens with his parents, Irwin and Miriam Smith; sister, Harriet; and brother, Phil. Challenging himself and thinking outside of the box from the very start, he graduated early from high school. The Milwaukee Braves baseball franchise invited him to try out for one of their farm teams, but deciding he needed to take a more secure path, he went to college at RPI in Troy, NY.
After graduating from RPI, Hank got a job as an electrical engineer at IBM, which brought him to Poughkeepsie, NY where he met Kathy while coaching her intramural touch football team (yes, intramural touch football, this is not a typo!). They got married, had their oldest daughter Tam, moved to California, had their next daughter Beka, moved to Pennsylvania and then Connecticut, had their son Dan, and finally settled in Vermont, and had their youngest daughter, Callie.
Hank moved with his young family to California to work for Intel and become part of the Silicon Valley revolution of the late 60s and 70s. It turns out he was not a good engineer at all, but he was good at managing people and projects (heading teams that headed up projects) and he was especially good at imagining. In his role as marketing manager at Intel, he was a pioneer. The company was just coming out with a microprocessor and Hank was tasked with marketing this brand new product with nothing to guide him. It was here at Intel that he began to live the philosophy that would become his trademark: transforming the traditional idea of failure into a determination to learn and then try again. The microprocessor was a huge success and much of that is due to Hank’s revolutionary marketing. Eventually, he became a venture capitalist at Venrock, in NYC, where he led his firm to invest in a little technology startup called Apple. At that time, Apple was just a prototype in Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage - a perfect example of Hank's imagination in full force.
Hank became one of the original remote workers when he and his family moved to Westwinds Farm in Vermont in 1979. In between working at home and going on business trips, he raised cows. Soon the farm evolved into a horse boarding and training endeavor. And Hank began honing his managing and imagining skills, as well as his it ain’t over til the fat lady sings belief. As he began to put roots down in the community, he looked and listened, recognized needs and sought to fulfill them. He first created a local baseball team and resurrected an old team name, the Bridgewater Beestompers. Then he spearheaded the Bridgewater Recreation Center and raised money to build a ball field, tennis courts, and a playground for the town. Kathy, Hank, and their friends Meg and Bruce Seely opened a much needed childcare center at Mt. Tom, which served families from around the Woodstock area.
Over the course of many years, Hank conceived of, launched, and invested in more than a dozen startup businesses based in Vermont. Some were successes, some were failures. But he put his heart, energy, and expertise into every single one of them. He liked the work. He liked being active, his mind clicking and his body moving. And he loved--more than anything--collaborating with other people, helping them step out of their comfort zones, building their confidence, and accomplishing great things together.
Hank felt just as excited and invested in developing his local Vermont projects as he did when he dreamed of what Apple Computer could be. They felt just as big to him. They felt just as critical for his community, whether that meant his industry or his town.
Hank was also an adventurer. He (almost) learned how to captain a boat. He traveled to all 7 continents, and often brought family and friends with him. And there wasn’t one country he came home from without a painting or a sculpture or some other expression of art.
Hank was a man of commitment and ritual. He attended all of Dan’s high school basketball games and kept notes on what Dan did well and where he could improve. (A generation later, he attended all of his grandson Jordy’s high school, legion, and college baseball games, sitting behind home plate--taking notes again.) His favorite high school tennis match of Callie’s was the only one she lost, but also the one he felt she put everything into. He attended all of Beka’s horse events and always told her to have fun just before she competed. (He also wore his lucky purple underwear for each event.) And he began to collect art from children’s books about baseball, when Tam began writing for children. He created experiences that became tradition.
Hank was also stubborn. He always thought he was right. And he was tough to argue with (because he always thought he was right.) But he also knew he didn’t know everything. And that is part of why he traveled, created companies, began projects, and tried new activities.
To learn new things and expand his world.
Hank’s legacy is Westwinds farm. It is a horse farm, a car repair shop, an antique car museum, a wedding site, a cross country running and baseball retreat, a wiffle ball tournament location, and a home. It is a house, bunk house, a ridge road up to a ridge house, a barn, arena, repair shop, fields, and a pond.
Hank died on July 14, 2020. In one hand he will forever hold a Pensy Pinky ball, just like the one he played stoop ball with in the Bronx, and in the other hand he holds a baseball.
Hank is survived by his wife, Kathy; his 4 kids, Tam, Beka, Dan, and Callie; his 12 grandkids, Jordy, Luc, Tobin, Zory, Phoebe, Tavia, Mia, Henry, Jafeth, Cameron, River, and another on the way; and a whole lot of other people who call him coach, mentor, teacher, and friend.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the sort of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.