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Douglass Dean Smith ’70 was born on May 11, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1966, he graduated from the Latin School of Chicago before obtaining his BA in English from Yale in 1970. A member of Saybrook College, Smith was active in the Yale Glee Club, the Yale College Council Key Society, the Yale Episcopal Society Student Committee, and the Elizabethan Club. He also served on the Committee of Religious Concern and was a student deacon at Battel Chapel. Smith was selected as a member of Manuscript, a senior secret society.

Upon his initial move to the city, Smith worked as a city planner. In later years, he worked as a financial officer at the Birch Wathen Lenox School, although he was expected to leave when it was revealed he had AIDS. Following his diagnosis-driven-departure, Smith became active in the New York City Chapter of the People With AIDS Coalition, often attending social events at the local community center. In the final years of his life, he lived in the same Manhattan apartment building as his mother. 

He died on June of 1988 from AIDS related complications. He was 39 years old.

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Richard Arnold ’70

I was a Freshman having lunch at a table by myself in the Commons during the first few weeks of the semester when who should happen to appear but Doug Smith. I invited him to sit down and we introduced ourselves, sizing each other while maintaining an affable banter.  To me he was the picture of a prep school boy from the city. “That’s good,” I thought to myself. 

That started a lifelong friendship, little did we guess at the time.  As fellow Saybrugians and as two devout Christians struggling to maintain a belief in God in an age of existentialism, we had an agreeable walk together through our Yale years; yet although I was out to myself in my junior year, I didn’t choose to reveal it to Doug, not yet.

We had a group of comrades at Saybrook; that included Jorge Enrique Garcia-Rodriguez, who also later perished in the epidemic.  During College, I thought that he might eventually come out, but, like Jorge, “not yet." 

(I guess in our circle I was certainly the most avant-garde)

Jump ahead to the year 1975: we were both in Manhattan in our respective careers.  Doug was out by then, and had a lover, John, a folksy young man with a frizzy beard and spectacles, and I had my partner Ron, who at the time was working at the Met Museum along with me.  We devised, Doug and I, to bring our respective lovers to our fifth Yale Reunion, which we did, much to our pleasure and taxing the patience of our spouses.

In retrospect we actually did bring them as our “trophies”. Of course Doug marched us all into Battell Chapel on the Sunday, where we heard a sermon by Dr. Coffin, one of our heroes, who had bested William Buckley in debate, and who vehemently maintained the relevance and reality of God.

Throughout the rest of the seventies and into the eighties we were both living on the Upper West Side, and we’d visit every once in a while.  This way I kept tabs on Doug as we both moved through the trials of living and loving in New York City. 

Doug was particularly vulnerable to mishaps and disappointments. As Bob Endo, our mutual Yale friend, would confide to me: “we worry about Doug.”  He lost his lover John over a yes or a no–who knows–but he mourned that. Another lover, a few years later, stabbed him in the abdomen so he had to walk to the hospital.

And then they made up, for a time.

“As fellow Saybrugians and as two devout Christians struggling to maintain a belief in God in an age of existentialism we had an agreeable walk together through our Yale years”

Doug found out he was HIV positive and pretty much accepted right off the bat what would eventually happen to him.  He said he had his cross to bear.  He was courageous yet gentle and resigned. I’d ride the bus to the Port Authority to meet him for an afternoon in the park, or an espresso at Zabar’s.

A couple of times he’d come visit me in my upstate retreat in the mountains. He believed that his life was in a book that was already written and written long ago. Once he put his arms around me and whispered “this is the beginning of the end.”

He was speaking to me, not to the air. As his AIDS progressed after an initial hospitalization with pneumocystis, he bunkered down in his Upper West side apartment, where I visited him almost every weekend near the end; his mother lived in an apartment in the same building.  We sat together at a table, the three of us. 

Doug and I would always go to the Sunday service at St. Michael the Archangel, and after the service we’d sip sherry with the clergy in the rectory.  The Episcopalian quip that was making the rounds at that time was:  “My dear! Try Communion…it’s better than any tranquilizer.”

It was a great mystery, but religion worked, as Doug and I knew it would.

Doug passed away in a hospital within only a few hours of his admittance; he slipped away before anyone knew it.  His mother, Ardelle, missed being there with her son.  At his funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, there was a brigade of pipers in kilts, and Doug was laid to rest in the Columbarium.

Because I was mandated by my job to attend and participate in our college’s commencement ceremonies on that same day, I had to miss this beautiful memorial. However, I thought to myself, how fitting that I am at a commencement, witnessing a beginning at the same moment my friend is making his transition.