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RIP Kerri Susan Smith, 1960-2008

When I returned from vacation yesterday, I learned that one of the most remarkable friends I have ever had died in her sleep at age 48. Her name was Kerri Susan Smith and when I say that the life I have today is all because of her, it is true.

The Denver Post ran a great obituary:

Kerri Smith, a former Denver Post reporter who struggled mightily, and publicly, with her obesity and then with cancer, died Saturday at her home in Arizona. She was 48.

Smith was a quick, tough, accurate and fair reporter who found that her struggles to drop half of her 460 pounds had become too time-consuming and emotionally draining to continue as a beat reporter. So she took a sabbatical from The Post in 1997 and moved to Los Angeles to work with a team of doctors. She wrote a series of personal stories in The Denver Post about her triumphs and failures, entitled “So Much to Lose, So Much to Gain.”

But two years later, she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She later developed trouble with her lymph system, diabetes and finally severe arthritis that partially immobilized her. Her mother, Bonnie Smith, said eventually her entire immune system “began to crash” and she died of congestive heart failure.

It went on, and I know she would have liked it. It struck me that the obesity that did so much to challenge her in life was the one thing being used to define her in death. She was so much more than a big woman. Especially for me.

Back when my first book was getting rejected everywhere, she picked me up off the floor and said, “I think the problem is your agent, not free enemy mine your book.” She got me moving again. I got a new agent and sold the book. After that, she told me: “You ought to think about becoming a professional speaker. They make good money…” It had never occurred to me. Not in a million years. But, her suggestion led me to the career I love so much.

I wrote about her in my book, Mustang Sallies, because she had lived a life of truth and courage. She was such a mustang. So strong and resilient. She was a hero to me because she always stayed true to her core values, and she was a compassionate human being who gave everything to other people.

I know that there is a tendency to judge people who are morbidly obese, but Kerri’s legacy shows us that heart transcends appearance. This world has lost one of the most beautiful individuals I have ever met. I wish everyone could have known her and learned from her, like I did.

I am heartbroken that she is gone, but I imagine that she is up there somewhere, in a new, healthy body, watching me write this. I hope she is smiling. And dancing.

  1. I have also heard about Kerri from someone who also admired and loved her. What an awesome article written about someone I unfortunatly never met. I did meet you in Jackson at the CSG-West meeting in 2007 and loved your presentation.

  2. I am one of the people that Kerri interviewed for “Kerri’s Story” in the Denver Post. We stayed in touch over the years, but then my husband died, Kerri had health challenges and we fell out of touch. I was just going to get back in touch with her to talk about freelance writing, and found the obituary and your blog instead. I knew her chances at a long life were not good, but still I was very saddened by this news.

    Kerri was the sweetest woman. She always cared about how you were doing, even while she was having her own challenges. And she continued to excel in her career despite them.

    RIP Kerri, you will be missed.

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