Daily Gratitude Year 9-Day 158: Today, I am grateful for my Brother-in-love, Monte Smith.
Jan gave me permission to share yesterday’s tribute to Monte as today’s daily gratitude. His life... well lived... leaves us with so many memories, laughter and some tears of shared grief.
A Tribute To Monte:
Monte worked in the oil industry and was gone for several years. He made his way to Florida, where he met Jan and married the love of his life. (Just to be clear… Jan and the Love of His Life are the same person.) To quote a beautiful country song, “God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.” God knew their situations, their hurts and their hesitations. Some of us think Mom picked Jan out for Monte at church. God knew they needed each other.
Monte fell for Jan and a darling little girl named Nikki. (Maybe not in that order.) Monte would have had all three of his children with him all of the time if he could. Nikki had her Dad’s undivided attention in the beginning… maybe more than she wanted. Eventually, Christopher, Jenny and Robin arrived and they were officially a family of six. No steps...just sisters and brothers. Together, they learned to be a family while living in Michigan, Indiana and back to Florida during different chapters. In Indiana, Chris became best friends with a teenage boy named Rob Steadman. There was always room for one more in Monte and Jan’s heart and home. Nikki and Rob fell in love and the rest is history.
I’m the youngest of the Smith pack, Randy’s wife. Not an original. A Smith by choice and in love. Jan and I came into the Smith clan about the same time. In fact, I don’t remember Monte without Jan or Jan without Monte.
The first memory I have of Monte Carl Willis Smith was a morning memory. I am normally a morning person, but Randy and I had driven 17 ½ hours from Olivet in a Ford Escort with 2 other people. I would be meeting his parents and Florida family for the first time. Monte had worked 3rd shift at Disney and decided that before he went to bed, we should all go to Disney. He arrived “ready to go” in a Disney t-shirt looking intentionally goofy. He had on Dad shorts, black dress socks and black dress shoes. He knew how to make a first impression! Oh Monte!
After fixing his fashion disaster, we made our way to Epcot where he had no trouble convincing me that the beautiful breeze keeping us cool that day was created magic… Disney wind. In my defense… I hadn’t slept and Monte could spin a good story. He loved to tell and retell that story. He treated me like a little sister from the first day... and for all of our days together. I’m not gonna lie… I can’t imagine this family without his smile, his light and his presence… but he leaves so many rich memories to keep him close.
If you have met any of the Smith kids… Jake and Shela didn’t raise a lazy one in the bunch. Monte, Leonard, Sheryl, Lola, Bruce and Randy have all been known to have multiple jobs. They like to work and are happiest when they have a purpose. They love making a difference. Monte led by example. That example sometimes included “what not to do”.
Hard work is not always recognized, but Monte (and Jan) have both received the rare “Partners in Excellence” awards from Disney during their years of service. It is a recognition of those who go above and beyond the expectations not just once in a while… but doing the daily mundane tasks with joy and to the best of their abilities every… single...day.
Monte started his career at Disney sweeping the streets. You know… the people that sweep up the popcorn before it hits the ground? In a blink, they moved him to management in housekeeping and maintenance. He worked on night crews to refresh the parks before sunrise. He washed floors long before he became a maintenance supervisor.
His work ethic, intelligence and charm earned him a chance to go to Italy for Disney. He spent three months involved with the completion of the ship. He made the maiden voyage of the Disney Wonder across the sea. His hospitality skills represented Disney well and the new ship would be well cared for with him on board. Monte had the time of his life preparing a place for guests of the Disney Wonder.
The offer came to stay at sea when he returned with the ship. But, at that time, Mom Smith was dying. She was living with them, so he passed on his big adventure to do what was loving and kind. He made his choices… honoring his mother, keeping his vows to his beloved wife and reflecting his Heavenly Father in his life. God blessed him for that decision.
Everything was more fun with Monte. He had a childlike wonder that kept him young for all of his days. He was a terrible tease, too. I will never forget the time I arrived in Florida… without my make-up. I didn’t realize it until we were getting ready to leave for the day. For some this would be no big deal… for me and his little brother, it was crisis mode.
We dressed and prepared to leave for the nearest Sephora. Monte, showing the greatest love and compassion for our distress… had a brown paper sack ready for me.The eyes were cut out and a beautiful face was painted on the paper sack. I had a lovely bag to wear on my head until I could repurchase my real face. He was so proud of himself and everyone thought he was very funny.
He had a way of engaging co-workers. Part of Disney’s excellence is its attention to details… especially cleaning details. Monte and his crews made that magic. He worked closely with security on 3rd shift. He talked to security one night when we were together at Coronado Springs resort. Some of us were being a little loud in the hot tub… it could have been Lola, Bruce, Billie… Monte sent his security pal to ticket us... for having too much fun. Loving out loud and laughing were his favorite moments.
Monte served Jan, his family, his church, his friends and Disney to the best of his abilities. To borrow from scripture, “He washed our feet.” He didn’t need to be first in line or “keep up with the Jones”. Any earthly treasure he collected was happily shared. He loved making a good life for his family. He shared all he had. You were always welcome in their home and at the coffee pot. I never once saw him behave selfishly. He never hesitated to inconvenience himself for others.
Monte tended to souls like some tend to gardens. He was always an encourager… just ask Jan, his kids and grandchildren. Chris & Kathy… Rob & Nikki… Robin and Jenna… and to all the grandchildren… he longed to be fully in relationship with you. You were his most precious treasures. Thanks for sharing him with all of us.
Monte has been SIL Melanie's biggest cheerleader, as she has battled to recover from a stroke this past year. It didn’t matter how bad he felt, he would focus on her journey to recovery.
In this past year, as cancer and Parkinson’s took its toll on his body and mind, he started going to work with Jan at the Naz Thrift Shop as a volunteer. (Monte was so proud of Jan’s work at the shop.) He wanted to feel productive and useful, even as his earthy body was wearing out. He preferred to tend to people’s souls… yet with humble enthusiasm… Monte took on the daily task of sorting, cleaning and matching donated shoes at the shop. A different kind of soul/sole. If you have ever been shoeless… you know his work in his last days was still making a difference.
As I prayed for the right passage to sum up Monte’s life, the Spirit whispered this reminder. Monte spent his life preparing a place for people to celebrate life together. People plan for years for a Disney trip. For many, it was a once in a lifetime vacation. He prepared a place for them … he did the same for us every time we came to their home. Casa Smith was always a welcoming place for his children, grandchildren, family and friends. His lifelong work was preparing a place for others to enjoy.
Jesus said:“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” -John 14:1-4
The joy and excitement in those words of promise! Wow, right? Did Monte ever consider that passage as a reflection of his work and his life? If he didn’t then, I know he does now. He has heard, “Well done, my good and faithful one.”
“You know the way to the place where I am going.” And, Jesus took care of the entry fees and tickets. Just like Monte covered so many who entered the gates of Disney over the years.
Big brother, you leave a tough act to follow. We are trying not to cry… except tears of joy per your instructions. We know your celebration is in full swing with Jesus, Jenny and those who arrived before you.
We love you forever. Thank you for a life well lived so that we might “know the way”.
Today... I am grateful for Monte.