Gary Smith radiated love and care for 67 years. Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Gary and his sister, Carol, were as close as siblings could be. When Gary went off to West Georgia State College to run track, he was a star hurdler and came in second place to Edward Moses, a future Olympian. Gary married Cindy Smith and the two had nothing short of a love story for 38 years. They owned a successful outdoor power equipment business and had two sons who were Gary’s pride and joy, Matthew and Adam.
Gary’s strength came from Cindy, and his inspiration came from Matthew and Adam. His love wasn’t just felt by his blood-related family however. Adam married Jen Ersek, who Gary took under his wing like she was his own daughter, even walking her down the aisle at their wedding. His love also radiated to Stephanie, Matthew’s wife. While Gary never got the chance to meet his grandson, Nolan, he was so excited the Smith name would continue to live on.
Gary’s care for everyone around him is one of the many things that made him so special. Carol equated Gary’s personality to an “energizer bunny.” He was always looking out for and supporting everyone around him. Whether it was rebuilding a cabin or working on classic cars, Gary was always teaching his boys something exciting and new. His cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that he built with his son, Matthew, was a special place for him, and his friends referred to him as the “Mayor of the Valley.”
Cindy recalls how Gary had been having a bad cough for a while, but dismissed it as drainage. Cindy and Carol urged Gary to get his cough checked out, but he was resistant to visit the hospital. As it turns out, Gary’s lagging cough was a symptom of his cancer. His lung cancer had gone undiagnosed for so long that once it was found, he only had a few short weeks to live. At the end of January 2021, Gary was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. On February 18, 2021, Gary passed away from his short, but hard-fought battle.
Gary’s family hopes to raise awareness about his journey with lung cancer to illustrate that lung cancer can happen to anyone, and a cancer diagnosis not only affects the patient, but the whole family. Gary also had a history of lung cancer in his family, as his uncle passed away from lung cancer complications when he was younger.
Gary’s lung cancer risk was heightened by his family history, but he did not get regular lung cancer screenings. The family encourages everyone to get low dose CT scans, whether you are high-risk or not. Individuals at high-risk for lung cancer include those who:
Are between the ages of 50-80 with a history of heavy cigarette smoking
Currently smoke or have stopped smoking within the past 15 years
Have exposure to radon, asbestos, secondhand smoke
Have a family history of lung cancer.
Early detection increases five-year survival rates by 51%, according to the American Lung Association.
Gary’s legacy lives on through his boys, daughter in-laws, wife, grandson, and The Gary H. Smith Memorial Fund. The Gary H. Smith Memorial fund helps low income, rural individuals that are at high risk for lung cancer to have access to screening in their communities. The first day of the fund was on March 9, Gary’s birthday.
While Gary is no longer here today today, he left a mark on everyone, whether it was through his “energizer bunny” personality, love for wood crafting, or spectacular Brunswick stew. His family believes Gary would’ve enjoyed supporting those in the lung cancer community through the LUNGe Forward 5Ks, since he was a former college track star and avid athlete.
We are extremely saddened to say that on February 18, 2021, Gary lost his battle. Gary impacted many with his advocacy efforts and dedication to the mission of Lung Cancer Initiative.