Honoring Tristram Harry Smith (April 9, 1961-August 6, 2018).
Tris was always supremely committed to his goals and also to the people in his life. With regard to work, he seemed tireless. He sat for hours upon hours, pecking out grant proposals, manuscripts, chapters, and reviews with an amazingly fast two-fingered typing technique. He gave countless talks, took classes, and read widely to keep up with new developments in the field. Tris wanted to do his part in contributing to innovation. This brilliant man worked incredibly hard to try to make a difference in the world. He was especially motivated to make the world a better place for children and their families.
Do you know how Tris and I first met? He interviewed me for a job at Washington State University. He seemed very serious and very hard to read. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and he didn’t really answer my questions. I felt frustrated! It turns out, he was desperately unhappy there, but of course he didn’t want to say so during my interview. It was NOT love at first sight. I definitely didn’t feel any kind of intimate connection. He struck me as very polite, professional restrained, serious, and remote.
Fast forward later, and I am living in Washington State. We were friends for almost two years before our first date. So how did I fall for Tris? By watching him play with his young son, Jonah. Tris repeatedly taunted and threatened Jonah with “THE CLAW” – “you better watch out you, its going to get you, it’s coming….., it’s coming….” Jonah was enthralled.
The first time I told Tris that I loved him was on Halloween, in 1999. Tris was stylishly dressed up at Mr. Watson to accompany Jonah as Sherlock Holmes. I’m sorry not to have been around when he was the Robin to Jonah’s Batman. We married after dating for only a few months. You know what kind of people do that? Celebrities. Not me – just him — Tris was an absolute rock star. And Halloween is my favorite holiday.
Tris was full of gentle humor. He loved puns, including “What language do germs speak? German?” Tris also developed humorous nicknames for Jonah and Maddy over the years. Jonah loved basketball and so was called Michael Jonah. When Baby Maddy joined our family, he positively glowed with love and pride. We still call him the baby whisperer. When Maddy toddled around the park, arms out, face raised to the sun, she was called Julie Wen Yong Andrews. When she was grumpy, he called her “surly girly” but always with great affection.
Tris loved to take the kids to the farmer’s market, to the Park Ave and Clothesline Festivals, and on bike rides. He read to each of them, every single night, for over ten years. He cooked delicious meals for all of us. At one recent dinner, he asked 15 year old Maddy if she had eaten any salad, the only vegetable he was serving. She balked. Tris asked her what the word for “health” was in Spanish. “Salud,” she said, with triumph. Tris beamed. He said, “Salud – see the connection? Eat salad.”
Tris used humor to cope. We laughed all the time, at everything. At one point in my career, I had a boss who would yell short angry phrases at me. Jenny. Why you call? Why not meet? You are bad. Bad. I’d complain to Tris, who would send follow up emails to me written in the voice of my boss. “Jenny. When you come to dinner? Come home. Home.” Over his life, and especially the 3 years, he’s had many serious medical problems. He texted me countless updates about his cardiac health, always with references to love songs. Tris would say things like “the doctor says my heart will go on, like Celine Dion,” and “we have to listen to my heart before it’s too late.” On his last trip to CA, just days ago, he sent me a selfie of himself at a Cancer Survivor’s park with the caption “Staying Alive, Staying Alive.”
Tris saw others clearly, including our flaws, but he believed that people are fundamentally good. I think it’s a form of projection. He was so loving and generous with others. He was absolutely decent, down to his bones. A few years ago, we watched a TV show, Fargo, where a man with an orange coat evaded hunters. This man sent his girlfriend out wearing the orange coat, knowing she would be the target instead of him. Tris was as wide eyed and incredulous as I’ve ever seen anyone be about anything – his jaw was literally dropped open. He’d never even dream of letting me, or anyone else, take the fall for him!
I can’t tell you how secure and loved he made me feel in that moment. I can’t express how much he made me feel secure and loved — in all of our moments. He showed his boundless romantic heart in countless big but also little ways over the 18 years, 2 months and 2 days of our marriage, making me coffee every morning, letting me steal all of our covers each night. Tris was the best man in the world and the most adoring father to our beautiful children. And along with Jonah and Maddy, he is the absolute great love of my life – I couldn’t be more proud to be his family, his spouse. He was ours, and we have been the very luckiest family.
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