My friend Dan Smith retired yesterday, and celebrated his birthday at the same time.
Then he got right to work on a brand-new project.
Considering how hard and constantly Dan's worked as a journalist and editor over the last four decades -- and then some -- there isn't a lot of surprise to this. He's spent the last twenty years editing the Blue Ridge Business Journal, a publication serving southwest Virginia, each page reflecting Dan's standards and integrity, providing its readers with news, features, opinion and attitude that equaled any such publication anywhere.
Every two weeks Dan produced a paper that was always lively, that took stands, that shared insights, and that reminded us that business is only part of life: Dan's book reviews ranged across everything from ancient history to contemporary fiction and most categories in-between. Rare enough for a business paper -- and increasingly, alas, any paper -- to carry book reviews, the Journal under Dan was absolutely committed to them.
He's just as committed to helping young writers become better writers. I've watched him work with dozens over the years, making the best of them better and then helping them get better still.
Dan always goes out of his way to credit the freelancers who provided the bulk of the Journal's copy; those young writers are a big part of his legacy.
Not that he'd use a word like legacy. Dan is not one to rest on his laurels, or to rest much, period. He's always looking for the next story, the next book to read, the next person to tell about that story, or that just-read book.
He's a fine writer, too; his memoir, Burning The Furniture, gives good picture of a life that in many ways promised not to last nearly as long as it has. (Dan learns from his mistakes; some of those, well-recounted in the book, were large and long-lived: Dan's ability to learn large lessons is at the heart of his own long-livedness.)
Dan's also one of the funniest people on earth. Presenting me with an award a few years back he remarked that, "Keith Ferrell is like a Marseilles whore: he comes in on time and his work's always clean." I laughed as hard as anybody -- and have taken the opportunity, more than once, to repay the favor. Dan can laugh hard at himself, too.
And he's nowhere near done with any of it. A mite too early to talk about that new project Dan's got in mind, but when the time's right I'll let you know -- if Dan hasn't gotten to you first.
And if you're in the Rocky Mount, Virginia area next Friday evening, August 8, stop by Edible Vibe ( a terrific restaurant/coffee shop in downtown Rocky Mount) come here Dan read -- he does that well, too -- as part of our 4th Annual Franklin County Library Book Festival. There willl be half a dozen writers sharing their work. You'll know which one's Dan because he's the one I'll be making the most fun of. The balloon goes up at at 6:30.
It's been my pleasure and, no exaggeration, my privilege to write a number of pieces for Dan over the past four years.
I was pretty well full-formed as a writer by the time I met Dan, but I still learned a few things from him, not least of them what a fine, fine man Dan Smith is.
I'm glad I know him.