Saturday, August 20, 2011


Tim “Woody” Smith, of Winterset, Iowa, died August 20, 2010.

“Brilliant” - - -  Merriam-Webster’s (on-line) Dictionary defines “brilliant” as “very bright . . . [as in] brilliant light  . . . striking, distinctive  . . . [as in] a brilliant example . . . distinguished by unusual mental keenness or alertness.”

I met Woody years ago through Connie, a neighbor and friend. Connie and her family hosted a Fourth of July party every year, and plenty of other get-togethers. Woody’s wife Sue is Connie’s sister. Through Connie, Woody and I crossed paths several times.  

My initial observations about Woody were that he was quiet and observant. He studied a conversation before he joined it. When he spoke, which wasn’t often, Woody was profound and succinct. He had a quirky sense of humor. He made people laugh - but never at anyone. He had a wry smile; it was contagious. He was kind and gentle. Woody and Sue ran a successful business and had an awesome family.

I’d heard Woody had played guitar with “The Blue Sky Band.” The band was supposed to be pretty good. It’d played all over the Midwest in the ‘80s and was the house band for some of Des Moines’ largest nightclubs.

About ten years ago, on a Fourth of July, Connie suggested Woody and I get together and play guitar. I hadn’t played much in years.  Without showing off, Woody displayed virtuosity.  Although he could play circles around me, Woody acted like I was the second coming of Chet Atkins. He encouraged me to “play out” and offered to join me if I did.

We started getting together to play more often. Woody was a gifted songwriter and could sing harmony very well. I introduced Woody to my musical friends and he introduced me to his. His favorite musician was his brother, Phil, a bassist.  When I talked to Woody it was clear that Woody worshipped Phil (and not just as a musician).

For several years Woody took me on a musical adventure. We played at: coffee houses; a winery; a wedding; churches; nursing homes; rural country club parties; Relays for Life; a small town variety show; a family reunion; a VFW; and more places.

Sometimes we played as an acoustic duo; other times with a full-fledged electric band. Nearly all our gigs were for charity. Woody usually had to drive a long way to get to them. People often knew him from his days with the Blue Sky Band – and they always had a special memory of the band.

On guitar, Woody was special. Great guitar players aren’t the ones who play the most notes in the least of amount of time. They often aren’t the ones with the most expensive guitars, the most effects pedals, or the biggest/loudest amp. Great players play the right thing, or nothing, at the right time. Woody was a great player.

It didn’t matter if Woody was playing electric or acoustic guitar – his playing was emotive, beautiful, and perfect. Woody, however, was much more than a gifted guitarist . . . .

Woody was a devoted husband and father. He was proud of his children and grandchildren. He was a good friend and mentor to many of us. He was an astute business owner. He was well read. He could discuss politics, poetry and sports.

He treated other people with dignity. Woody was decent to everyone he met.  

I have a great memory of Woody.  In the summer of 2009 we played at a yard concert/hog roast to raise funds for a West Des Moines Catholic Church (Woody was a Winterset Methodist). Right before we took a break to eat, a talented fourteen year old musician sat in with us on a Beatles song.  Woody skipped the meal to talk to the young man. Woody answered questions about music and guitars. He taught the kid a few guitar licks and tricks. Woody was giving a gift . . .

The memory is not just special because Woody was kind to one young musician. It is unique because it is a profound example of how Woody acted toward everyone he met.

Woody’s kindness was contagious. When a person like Woody does something, other people want to do it too.  He made being nice attractive. People became better by spending time with Woody.

In all the years I knew Woody - despite his intelligence, musical talent, business accomplishments, and superb family - I never heard him boast. I don’t think he ever realized (or cared about) how extraordinary he was.

Woody was diagnosed with cancer in February 2010. He dealt bravely and optimistically with his illness.

Woody spent his last few days in the hospital. He knew his time was short. I visited him. Cancer and chemo had taken their toll. As I entered his room my eyes may have given away my concern.  To comfort me, Woody told me a goofy joke.

Woody died in August 2010 with dignity and humility. The overwhelming attendance at his visitation and funeral would have embarrassed him. He was too humble to have realized the number of lives he touched.

“Brilliant” - - - Woody shined. He was a genius; striking and distinctive. Woody was a light in the darkness. He was brilliant in every sense of the word.

One person, after Woody’s death, said “the music just got better in Heaven.” That was only partly true. When Woody died, everything got better in Heaven.