B. Smith by
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Prompted By Chance Encounters

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 I was so sorry to learn of the recent death of restaurateur Barbara Smith at age 70 after a decade-long and very public battle with Alzheimer’s.   She and her husband chronicled their years living with the disease in their book Before I Forget.

I had followed Barbara’s career since she was a beautiful young model and in 1976 only the second African American to grace the cover of Mademoiselle magazine.

Also a talented Southern cook,  Barbara went on to open the highly successful B. Smith’s restaurant in New York’s theatre district,  and eventually to add two more restaurants to the chain.  Her charm,  her taste,  and her business acumen led to lines of cookware and furniture,  and an apt comparison to Martha Stewart.

Over the past few years I rode the Metroliner fairly regularly to DC and discovered the B. Smith’s restaurant located then in Washington’s beautiful Union Station.

But my favorite B. Smith’s was the beautiful, airy restaurant on the wharf in Sag Harbor.  We headed there for lunch or dinner whenever we were in the Hamptons,   and twice had chance encounters there with Barbara Smith and her husband Dan Gasby.

The first time I spotted them there we stopped at their table to introduce ourselves,  and they invited us to sit with them awhile.   We talked about life,  family,  politics,  and Barack Obama’s recent election.  They were  both warm and gracious,  and Barbara looked as lovely as she did in her fashion shoots.

We laughed at the fact both husbands were named Dan,  and their daughter shared my name, Dana.    Back at our own table we were finishing our meal when the waiter brought us dessert with their compliments.

A summer or two later we were back in Sag Harbor and again spotted them at the restaurant.  We spoke again and mentioned it was our wedding anniversary.  Later our waiter brought us a  complimentary bottle of wine,  followed by Barbara and Dan themselves coming back to voice their good wishes.

You might say other savvy restauranteurs may have done the same,  but not with the same grace.

Rest in peace,  B. Smith.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: B Smith, Restaurants


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    What a beautiful tribute to Barbara and Dan, Dana. I enjoyed reading about your chance encounters with these famous folks who were also extremely gracious.

  2. Marian says:

    This is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, Dana. It’s wonderful you got to experience B. Smith in person. I saw her and Dan on a talk show (sorry, I don’t remember which) when she was in the early stage of Alzheimers. They both had such dignity and grace in confronting such a tragic diagnosis. I respected them both for their bravery in being public.

  3. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disorder, and how tragic that it would strike such a talented and beautiful lady. My older brother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it made me realize that, apart from our children, our brain is our most precious possession. He died recently, but I felt as if I had lost him a year ago when he was diagnosed. I try to imagine what it must be like to find one’s brain slipping away, so I intend to read “Before I Forget.” Great article; I’m glad you got to meet Barbara and her husband.

    • Sorry to hear about your brother Joan.

      I lost my sister (Michael’s mother) to MS at age 61, it was a devastating illness and affected the whole family as you can well understand.

      Somehow we all muster the strength to cope, don’t we!

  4. Suzy says:

    This is a lovely story, Dana. I must admit that I had never heard of Barbara Smith or her restaurants, but she sounds like she was a special person. How nice that you had those two chance encounters with her.

  5. A heartfelt and beautiful tribute to B. Smith, Dana! I first became aware of her when my name was Barbara Smith, my business name was B Smith Photography, and the books I wrote never came up in search engines because her name was so prominent. When I looked her up, I was enthralled by her beauty, style, and accomplishments. How fortunate you were to have spent time with her not once but twice! It’s wonderful to know she was as gracious in person as she appeared to be in everything I read about her.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    I saw her obit recently, Dana. What an interesting, vibrant woman. So cool that you had those chance encounters with her and she more than lived up to expectations (so few celebrities do). Thanks for sharing this story with us.

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