Greg Smith, a Remembrance
by Joe Quinn
Greg Smith was a dear friend of mine, and beloved by many in the Deaf and Interpreter communities. Greg was funny, charming and extraordinarily bright, had a great interest in languages and linguistics, and a passion for Russian Literature and language which pre-dated his exposure to ASL.
He learned American Sign Language as a result of his relationship with his Deaf partner, and eventually become a skilled ASL/English Interpreter. At a time when there were few formal Interpreter Training Programs, Greg was committed to continually growing and learning as an Interpreter through his active involvement in Northern California Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (NorCRID), and by taking classes and workshops that were offered in the community.
Like many of us who came into the field in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Greg was deeply involved in the social justice movements and the fight for civil rights in the Deaf Community, the LGBT Community and for people with disabilities. He often volunteered as an Interpreter at rallies and meetings, and was a participant in activities and gatherings sponsored by the Rainbow Deaf Society, the original SF Bay Area Deaf LGBT organization.
Greg was a Staff Interpreter at Laney College, Cal State University at Hayward (now East Bay), and at the Center for Independent Living and also worked as a freelance community Interpreter.
Greg was one of the first people in our community to be diagnosed with AIDS. Although treatment and medication has come a remarkably long way in the ensuing decades, in the early and mid-1980’s, AIDS often resulted in severe illness, debilitation and death. As Greg had been such an active participant in our community, many Interpreters and Deaf people were involved in providing support and care to Greg during the course of his illness.
One of the most remarkable periods I remember from that time was Greg being so ill he needed to be hospitalized in the ICU. Greg’s pneumonia required him to be intubated and he was thus unable to speak. We organized a group of his Interpreter friends to be in the hospital at his side around the clock to interpret for Greg during the weeks he spent in the ICU. Although he could not speak, he was able to sign, and thus could communicate via Interpreters with his doctors and nurses in the ICU. Before their eyes he transformed from a non-communicative “patient”, to a human being who was able to display his sharp wit, sense of humor and keen intelligence. Greg often said after this how grateful he was to have learned Sign Language.
Although there were many poignant moments with Greg during the period of his illness, the most touching was seeing the impact the support of his “beloved community” had on his family. His parents in particular were so moved by the outpouring of love and care to their son from Greg’s friends and colleagues.
After a long and courageous battle with AIDS, Greg passed away in December of 1984. Interpreter colleagues, members of the Deaf Community, family and friends overflowed at Greg’s memorial gathering. Although there was tremendous sadness at his passing, the memorial was indeed a celebration of Greg’s life, and a joyous and at times uproariously funny testimony to the impact he had made on all of our lives.
As a tribute to Greg, NorCRID set up the Greg Smith Memorial Fund in 1985 to help NorCRID members during emergencies, particularly medical emergencies. Every year the money raised at the silent auction at the Annual NorCRID Conference goes to replenish this fund. I was so delighted and touched to see all of the work that went into this year’s auction, and the money raised in tribute to Greg.
Best of all was seeing the picture of my beloved friend, a “twinkle in his eye”, that wonderful face, his smile. Gone far too soon, my dear Greg, but you are still having an impact on our community.
(Note: If you would like to make a donation to NorCRID’s Greg Smith Memorial Fund, visit http://www.norcrid.org/index.php/about/donation )