Jim Smith: A Place Beside the Road
By Gene Kira, January 5, 2004, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Jimmy Smith, 76, of Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, Mexico passed away early on Saturday afternoon, January 3, 2004, after a fierce fight with cancer.
He died as he had lived: a courageous man, honored, respected, and yes, loved by all who knew him. And in the end--surrounded by his family--he had what he always said he wanted most: "A simple place beside the road, where I can be a friend to all."
Jimmy Smith treated me as a friend, I'm proud to say, but in truth that's no special honor; if this most generous of men had any real enemies, I never heard of them, and he had more real friends than anybody I've ever met.
What was the big attraction of this gaunt, homespun, slow-talking, nicotine-stained, baldheaded, limping, busted-up old codger, who reveled in being reviled by those-who-would-be-phony as "The Grinning Gargoyle of Baja California"?
Some might say it was Jimmy's vast knowledge of Baja lore, history and culture, or his many adventures as an early Baja pioneer and bush pilot, or perhaps the amazing spectrum of Baja characters that he knew. But those things were merely "extras." The essence of Jimmy Smith really didn't have that much to do with Baja itself:
First, Jimmy Smith was extremely intelligent and infuriatingly well-read. I don't know what his I.Q. was, but trust me, it was way the hell up there. In Jimmy's presence, it was always fascinating to throw an obscure question at him, and then just sit back and listen as he composed a fascinating symphony around it. Inside that knobby head of his, there was a restless, powerful mind at work.
Second, Jimmy was a man of sincerity, honesty, and saintly humility. He was born dirt poor as James Pledger Smith, son of a ranch hand and his wife, Jewel Martin Smith, near Quail, Collingsworth County, Texas, on July 15, 1927. Although Jimmy Smith traveled much of the world and eventually rose to the status of "Don Jimmy" in his adopted East Cape community, he treated everybody exactly the same. If you had warts, Jimmy forgave you for them, truly and sincerely. If you had millions, Jimmy didn't care about them. No matter who you were, Jimmy was interested in you only as yourself.
Third, Jimmy was a man of honor and courage. You could trust him to keep a confidence. You could trust him to keep his word. And you could trust him to take a tough hit when he had to, without complaining. Jimmy was a man, in the very finest sense of the word.
Jimmy Smith was also an American in the finest, multicultural sense of that word, survived by his children and his wife, Guadalupe del Socorro Romero Lopez, and by a Mexican-American East Cape community that is now grieving hard and long over a lost icon, a big piece of its very soul.
There won't be any more Jimmy Smiths. Our world has shrunk so much, there isn't enough room for guys like him anymore. We will miss not only Jimmy himself, but also the ideas and values that he represented.
For those of us who love to drive down Mex 1, there will always be a little lonely spot now, on the right side, about 1,000 miles south of the border, just a little past the Pemex station in Los Barriles. We'll still stop and visit with Lupe, and maybe buy some chips or a soda at the "Minisuper Playa del Tesoro," but it won't be quite the same, ever again.
Behind the garden, in the rocking chair on the porch, only the treasured memory of Don Jimmy Smith--a friend to all--will be there in his place beside the road.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")