Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1122075537

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: SMITH; James Henry-6/7/2005-USA/PA
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 00:38:57 +0100

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Section B, Pages 1 & 4

A FAN'S FAREWELL: Black-and-gold "viewing" honors Garfield Man who loved his
Steelers [football team], story written by Ervin Dyer

"In silk black-and-gold pajamas, velvety black robe and slippers, James
Henry Smith is at rest. His feet are crossed, his pack of cigarettes and a
beer by his side. Steelers highlights are playing on a high-defination TV
screen nearby. With the TV remote in his hand, leaning back in his recliner,
a Steelers blanket across his legs, it's like a game-day Sunday. Except that
it's not.

It was last night at Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home in Lincoln-Lemington, and
family and friends were filing into pay their final respects to Smith, whom
they called one of the biggest Steelers fans in the universe.

Smith, 55, of Garfield, had been ill for two years with prostate cancer. He
died last Thursday [June 30, 2005] at the VA Medical Center in Oakland
[Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania].

A week before, his wife, Denise Finn Smith, had called Coston's to ask if
something special could be done to celebrate her husband's life. He wanted
to be at home, in the living room, surrounded by photos of family and
watching football. For some viewers, the "living room" brightened a somber

"I saw it and I couldn't even cry," said Mary Jones, of Wilkinsburg, a
longtime friend. "People will see him just the way he was. This is such a

For others, the moment proved too sweet not to shed a tear. "I couldn't stop
crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said Mary Ann
Nalls, 58, of Friendship, Smith's sister. "He loved football and nobody did
[anything] until the game went off. It was just like he was at home."

This viewing was unusual, acknowledged Roland Criswell, Coston's young
funeral director. In the past, with the rash of deaths of young men [the
result of gang violence], families sometimes asked that they be laid out in
Fubu and Pelle-Pelle, popular hip-hop clothing brands. And the trend in many
communities is to honor thematic requests. For instance, in one town, a
well-known cook was laid out in a replica of her kitchen. Viewers were
treated to apple pie as they came in. "But," said Criswell, "I didn't know
if I'd be ready to meet this request."

To create the effect, Criswell rented a stage to elevate and isolate the
"living room" and then surrounded Smith with his Steelers' cap and fan
favorites. A DVD of great Steelers moments looped continuously on the
screen. The sacred moans of Mahalia Jackson [a singer] played softly over
the speaker.

Because Smith was slim, it wasn't too difficult to have him reclining in the
chair and not falling over. Since the request was made a week before he died
the staff was able to prepare.

Smith was born in 1950 in the Hill District [City of Pittsburgh], and he had
two older sisters. He was a skinny kid who graduated from Westinghouse High
School in 1958 and went to Vietnam [to serve in the War]. He served 3 years
in the Army, 17 years in the Army Reserve, and 5 years in the National
Guard. He came home and went to Robert Morris College for two years. He
worked for U.S. Steel.

With no children of his own, he treated his wife's children like his own and
"adopted" many of those in the neighborhood. Slowed by cancer in recent
years, he stayed home and kept house.

"He had my dinner ready when I came through the door," said his wife, who
met him 12 years ago in an East Liberty bar and married him two years ago.

Smith was a party regular. His wall of photos has him in a gray fedora and
matching suit at a dozen cabarets. He looked dashing, his wife by his side.
He loved to dance and when he was not undergoing chemotherapy, he loved
traveling to visit his stepchildren. He had three, and nine

But what he held most dear was football and the Steelers. He traveled to
Cleveland when they played the Browns. But for home games, he'd watch on TV,
inviting over his male friends and cheering into the twilight. Game day at
his house was a process. A former Army cook, he'd get up early in the
morning and cook his favorites: chili and hot sausage.

Today [July 6, 2005], Smith's funeral at 1:30pm will be more traditional--in
a casket. He'll be buried at Allegheny Cemetery [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania].
But yesterday, he rested: His Steelers cap by his side, and a cherished
wedding photo above his head--his smile beaming into all eternity."

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