Arthur is the third person I met when I came to Jacksonville in 1981. He was the Player Personnel Director for the Jacksonville Tea Men and moonlighted as my broadcast partner when we televised the games. But we all knew it was his job to be Noel and Dennis’ best friend.
It seemed at every turn I was learning something from Arthur.
So I got to know Arthur professionally, and personally all at the same time. We traveled together, ate meals together, drank together, all the while as he taught me everything I knew about professional football (soccer), reminding me that he never taught me all that he knew. He taught me the nuance of the professional game, and more importantly, how to get along with Noel. In fact, Arthur kept Noel from beating me to a pulp in San Diego at dinner one night, diffusing the situation with his normal humor and grace. He taught me that if the bar bill wasn’t higher than the food total when somebody else was paying the tab, you hadn’t done your job.
I got to know Arthur professionally when he went to work at Tom Bush BMW. I bought cars from Arthur but actually many days I sat in his office while he worked on a sale, meticulously going over the numbers and executing the paperwork in perfect penmanship. Beautiful writing actually, crafted much like his personality: meticulous, thorough, and clearly understood, with a few extras thrown in. I don’t know why I was fascinated with Arthur’s handwriting but it always had clarity to it, with a little flair.
But it was over the years that he grew into one of my best friends. I’d like to think I was one of his best friends but that might be insulting to at least 20 people in this room alone because he treated so many people as his best friend. And a great friend he was. Always available always upbeat. Ready with some advice if you needed it, whether you liked to hear it or not. He raised my level of refinement when I needed it. Throughout his various ailments you all know Arthur never wavered. He always said to me, “I’m going to get out of here and be just fine. I’ll work on it until I make it right. No problem. There are a lot of people worse off than me.”
Like all of you, I just liked to spend time with Arthur, discussing his world travels and hearing stories of far away places. He became my de facto travel agent. There was never a place I was interested in going that he already hadn’t been there. Sometimes he waved me off. Other times he was insistent. He told me about an obscure Michelangelo sculpture in Brugge, encouraged me to go to Andorra because, as he put it, “their entire economy is based on smugglin’.” When I told him I was going to Santorini, one of the Greek isles, he told me a story about going there and passing on a boat cruise everybody else was going on. “I sat in this beautiful bar,” he told me, “and this lovely American girl was the bartender. From Kansas City. Went there on vacation and never left.” It was that kind of recall and detail in his stories that enriched the storytelling and gave real texture and fabric to the people and places he had encountered. Because you know he made friends with everybody.
We spent a bunch of time in Leo’s. Hours and hours of just sitting and laughing. One night I was there with Linda and all three of our children. I insisted that Arthur join us and I have such a fond memory of his recalling to my kids about his time as a child in England during WWII. How he went home from school in the dark. How the planes would fly overhead. And how they would go into the bog looking for a downed plane in order to get the Bakelite from the cockpit canopy. As a storyteller he had no peer. I can recall my children’s rapt attention at a life so different from their own.
I once tried to tell Arthur how important he was to me, and what a good friend I considered him and how he was one of my favorite people. He waved me off saying, “We’ll have none of that Sam, let’s get together tomorrow night.” When I came here last night, I got to the front door and knew I was in the right place. It sounded much more like a party inside than a wake, just as he would have expected.
He did touch his sentimental side in recent years, being sure to tell me, with Shirley in the room, how important she was to him and how she was the best thing that ever happened to him. I always chuckled when people said Arthur was living on “borrowed time” after his first episode with “upper aortic anuyrsum.” “He’s so lucky his wife came home at lunch,” people would say. The only time she’d ever done so. Ever. But she was supposed to be there, just like Arthur was supposed to be here for 80 years to touch all of our lives. He wasn’t living on borrowed time, it was HIS TIME. It wasn’t Arthur who was lucky but rather all of us who shared his life, his humor and his grace.
When my phone rang last Friday and it said “Arthur Smith” on the screen, I answered with my usual, “Hey Arthur, what ‘cha up to.” When Shirley’s voice came from the other end and said, “Sam, it’s Shirley, and I have some bad news,” I knew what was up. For some reason I knew exactly what she was going to say to me and I reacted very differently than I thought. I shed a tear, for sure, but I never, and still haven’t considered Arthur, “gone.” For some reason, and I don’t think this about everybody, I think I’m going to see him again. It might be a little hot for a while, between the two of us, but I believe I’ll see him again.
So to steal a line from Arthur that Barbara reminded me of last night, he would never say, “Goodbye,” when you left or hung up the phone. He’d always end it with, “Bye for now.”
So, Bye for now Arthur, we’ll meet later and I’ll be able to tell you how you’re one of my favorite people.