1952 - 2009
The one and only Smeats
Smeats died this summer and left a gap that will never be filled. I was with him and his sister the day he was first told the words he had dreaded, but which he knew in his heart would be said.
It is hard to capture the essence of this man in a few paragraphs and I hope to do him justice. I met Smeats in 1979 in Lourdes when he joined SOLL for the first time and it was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Over the next two decades we went to Lourdes three times each year with SOLL in May, the Nottingham Pilgrimage in July, and then en stage in September. Up to this year we were still going with SOLL and doing the stage. It was nearly always a pleasure to share with him, and certainly a pleasure to be with him. We had a similar sense of humour, similar views on most things and a love of Lourdes. We found the hotel Ste Marie in 1985 and established this as a base for all future Lourdes visits. Many of you will know Christine from the hotel; she was heartbroken to learn of Smeats’ illness and kept in touch with me throughout.
Smeats was someone you couldn’t dislike. He was approachable, warm, very generous and delighted in playing about and having a laugh. In the early days we would go to Nottingham to our friend John and spend a weekend of football, drinking and generally having a great time before heading south late Sunday evening.
The Lourdes family is vast and you all will have treasured memories and it is a measure of the man that they come easily. He was a little lost when he first took early retirement and seemed to struggle to get involved in something to keep him as busy but over time he got sorted and was in good form. He met Linda through Lourdes and as they grew closer he began to imagine a life not quite so alone. Smeats loved Linda and it changed his life. We talked over a beer in Lourdes in May (as we often did) and he talked about his new life. The tragedy of course was of how little he had of it.
When Smeats discovered how ill he was he wanted to be quick off the blocks, saw recovery as inevitable and was hopeful. This hope was to be dashed over the few weeks ahead and, as we know, his time with us was limited. We talked lots over those weeks, got angry about his fate, laughed and reflected on a life well spent and moments which are to painful to put in words. Smeats’ funeral Mass was on 3 September and the Lourdes family was overwhelmingly in evidence. I went to Lourdes next morning as we had planned to do and finally was able to sit at the Grotto and look back over a summer and the awful loss that has occurred, of the fact that God had called back one of the greatest. It was a day hard to forget, I saw Smeats in every place that we had walked, talked and drank. I stopped at a haunt of ours where the patron automatically set for two - waiting for Smeats to round the corner of the Gave, having no idea at this stage that he wouldn’t be – or of how much I wished he would, too.
Smeats, old boy, you will remain always in our hearts; to know you was to love you, and I knew you very well.