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Bits and Pieces: Print Requiem For Mark Smith

March 2013 By Erik Cagle

It's been more than a month since he passed away, yet I still expect to see our technology editor, Mark Smith, pop his head over the partition wall to make an irreverent observation about someone or something. He's always been just a stretch of the legs away from casual conversation. Yet, after 13 years of sharing a common space with the man, I'm afraid I knew very little about him.

Mark, who died Jan. 21 of mouth cancer at age 51, was an intensely private man. For all I know, he jetted off to Monte Carlo now and then for a weekend jaunt. This is not true, however, because the security man at the downstairs front desk of NAPCO's building logged him coming in on more than a few Saturdays. Not to mention Sundays. Some mornings, I'd beat him into the office by a half-hour. He'd promptly stay at his post two hours after I'd departed for the night.

How do you sit next to someone for years and know very little about him? I'm culling memories from here and there, but it makes for an incomplete portrayal, like unrelated puzzle pieces with large portions of the overall picture absent.

My headline here is meant to be ironic. This effort is anything but lyrical. It is both difficult and necessary. I'd like to think that, after I grimace and fall for the final time, the person sitting on the other side of my cubicle would have specific, happy memories to ponder. I owe it to Mark to tell you his story, even though the thought of doing so would make him wince.

Mark Smith could be a tough guy to deal with, and as the cancer continued to wear him down during the past six months, tolerating his irascible side wasn't easy. That the cancer impacted his speech only compounded communication issues. He deserves a pass on those final six months. I'd hate to think how tough it would be to put up with me under the same circumstances. But he came to work virtually every day. Mark wasn't about to let dying interfere with his day-to-day activities.

Want to know something about Mark? He was pretty damn intelligent. He knew our editing and publishing systems inside and out. I treated him like a human search engine, as if he had the answer to everything. More often than not, he either had the answer or could supply it in short order after a little research.


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