Mark Smith, On Fire

Photo of Mark Smith holding a large "Not Dead Yet" vertical banner.The caption over the cartoon reads, “Why Mark Smith Left VR.” It shows a man at a podium saying, “I’ve bounced no checks. I’ve taken no gifts. I’ve accepted no kickbacks. I just don’t fit in... I quit!”

Carrying any flame in Mississippi, which consistently ranks at the bottom of every list, takes nerve, takes stamina. He quit the state’s office of VR in 1992 to direct the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, making that group “a model of what a true grass-roots, cross-disabil-ity coalition should be,” according to one of its members.

At a real-life podium, fresh from carrying the torch for the ADA’s tenth anniversary, Mark Smith laughed at his sweat-drenched running clothes and said, “Carrying the flame in Mississippi, in July, is an interesting experience.”

It appears that Smith was often called on to defend the ADA. One TV news crew recorded him saying, “You name the law and someone will take advantage of it. But at the heart of this law is equal access. What could be more American than that? What could be more important for us all to strive for?” Good point.

He died still striving, taken by cancer in February 2002, just four days after his last day on the job. Mary Troupe, a long-time colleague who, like many others, called Mark her mentor, said of him, “This was a man without disability, a man who shunned the spotlight and was embarrassed by praise. His legacy is that he touched the life of every person with a disability in our state and nationwide, people who never knew him, or met him, or knew his name.”

One of the founding four members of Justice for All and a key partner in that effort, Mark headed up one of Justin’s truth teams and was active in national organizing, in 1997 for the Not Dead Yet challenge to the U.S. Supreme“Court. Justin and Yoshiko said of him, “Mark was the strongest man we ever knew.... lightning quick and thunder strong... Whether fighting cancer or injustice, he never gave the enemy an inch.”

What Mark said of Justin applies to him as well: “Heroes are remembered but legends live forever.” When he left us, not one but many came forward to carry on. “We cannot quit,” Betty Busby says now. “We cannot even rest. We have a job to do, to achieve justice for all.”

— L.G. with reporting from Christy Dunaway


MOUTH           JULY - AUGUST 2003 • PAGE 19