In loving memory of Sharon Smith-Gey
July 20, 1947 – November 4, 2016
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.
It would have been difficult to find a room big enough to honor the spirit of one whose life, whose heart, whose vision for the world and her love ones was so expansive that it could hardly be contained in a traditional room or setting. So an existing space, not contained by walls was re-purposed to include all of you, her beloved family and friends, her beloved horses and land could all be together in one place. Some would have said impossible. But not those who most deeply bear the imprint of a woman they knew as a mother, grandmother, wife, and friend.
The artist paints with materials at hand to create something new where there was nothing. Sharon’s art poured forth from her heart and her head. As one whose creativity knew no boundaries, it seems Sharon knew a secret known only to the artist. That is, the artist doesn’t necessarily create something brand new from nothing, but possesses the ability to take existing elements seemingly disconnected, and slam them together in such a way that something new and wonderful emerges – with unimagined colors, textures, and elements that heretofore had remained hidden. With vision and skill, mixed with an enormous capacity to love, Sharon built dwellings, expanded dwellings, and re-purposed dwellings where there was room for everyone around the table. And if the table was too small, you just added on to the table.
Sharon Smith Gey was born in Xenia, Ohio on July 20th, 1947. She was the daughter of Sydney & Maxine Smith. At the age of 2, the family moved to Florida. Her good, compassionate and loving strength was born in this family, which included her brother, Wayne and sister Corky (Corliss).
The expansive skies of Florida, its colors, proximity to water, and even its ruggedness provided a suitable backdrop on which to create her life. Sharon’s childhood was rich with stories that time does not permit. Suffice to say, she was Daddy’s girl, and was fiercely proud that her father was elected mayor of Deland. Water was indeed a theme in Sharon’s teenage years: the family business, the Flamingo Brands Water company was the first bottled water company in Florida. Growing up, she held jobs as a lifeguard, she taught swimming lessons, she worked as a server at the Bernard Surf restaurant, and indeed for a time was the girl who rode a water skiing elephant in a sky show. Because she had difficultly holding her breath underwater, she adapted a strategy of holding her nose by rolling her top lip up to plug her nose. While functional, it was apparently not deemed attractive by some, so she got fired. You will not hear about many setbacks in Sharon’s life, and I expect this wasn’t really a setback so much as it was the world learning to reckon with her.
From the youngest age, a determined Sharon worked hard. In her inspiring professional life Sharon was acknowledged and highly respected as a natural leader. Sharon’s career eventually led her to work with the Boeing Aerospace Center – on a business trip to Seattle, she experienced Jungle Jim’s restaurant and brought the concept home to Merritt Island, opening in 1986 and expanding over the next decade to include 5 locations. Clients, employees, and entrepreneurs were drawn to her. In a male-dominated field, Sharon’s success with Jungle Jim’s and other ventures was centered around taking really good care of her employees – recognizing that building trusting and caring relationships was always the right thing to do. Professionally, and personally, she had a way of making people feel better about themselves. She saw their potential and fanned the spark, making them better than they thought they could be. I think this is known as building capacity. People craved her advice. Her family shares that in recent days, they have received many messages with the same theme: She helped others discover a belief in themselves, and empowered them to keep going. Her success was not about her, it was inextricably bound to the success of others.
Sharon’s amazing family began with Teri’s birth in 1967. In 1973 the family expanded to include Bob, and daughters Kristy and Tracy. Kathy came along in 1982. The girls remember that Sharon ran a family that always had extra teenagers, an ever growing family circle. and the daughters remember working and playing hard right along with Sharon. They remember weekend spent at the family’s home on Drayton Island, and other weekends spent at horse shoes, horses being a great love and passion of Sharon’s. The knowledge of being a part of Sharon’s family is shared by a great number of you gathered here today – once welcomed into Sharon’s fold, you were and are here to stay. The girls remember clearly Sharon’s advice – the Credo she instilled in each one of them: Remember who you are. Respect yourself. Do yourself and the family proud. Claim your inherent dignity and worth. The girls remember there were no secrets, really that were kept, or needed to be kept. The daughters were always provided with quarters and the imperative to call of you need me. In short, you are in charge of yourself, but I’ve got your back. Remember who you are is immortalized, I understand in a particular tattoo.
The 2000s marked the beginning of the Wayne and Sharon years. Sharon met Wayne Gey in a CEO group that met one hour a month to share openly inner/deepest issues, concerns related to business. Much of that time, Sharon was the only woman in the group. This alone gave her a unique perspective. So much of her feedback was about people, fairness, their need for help. Some in the group were heavy into stats, revenue. Her theme was I’m having more fun than anyone. Wayne recounts that something in Sharon opened people. She did this with CEOs and anyone, with employees, and with family members at the kitchen sink. For her it was more about fun than money.
As the Wayne and Sharon story continues – one of the members of the executive group was getting married, and Sharon asked Wayne if he were going – in other words, she asked him out. She further suggested that if they were going, it might be a good idea to take dance lessons to prepare for the wedding, which they did at the Don Cezar Dance studio. This was ballroom dancing, not necessarily in Wayne’s direct comfort zone. Still, the highly achieving pair took it to the level where they won trophies. Sharon helped Wayne add some square footage around his comfort zone.
They were married in 2005, their union expanding the family to now to include Clarke, Meladie, and BJ.
They were married out in the garden, Wayne’s friend Carl and his identified best man was living with cancer. In order for Carl to attend, Sharon decided they would pick a date that worked for Carl when he feeling well enough. Afterwards, they rented a limo and visited all their friends.
Together, Wayne and Sharon traveled over the world, US, Canada often for events associated with the National Fire Sprinkler Association.
Theirs was an extraordinary marriage, a coming together of vastly differing personalities, a merging and expanding of families that according to all made everyone better. It was Wayne who recalled the passage from Proverbs referring to the wisdom of the perfect wife and woman, and indeed there are 4 verses that ring so true in understanding Sharon’s place as wife, mother and grandmother”
Proverbs 31: 25 – 29
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
A family needs room to grow. The house, this house and others north of here bear the imprint of what Sharon did to a house to make it a home that accommodated the family: she “Sharonized.” It. What does it mean to Sharonize? We could spend countless hours on the details, if there were architectural plans we could examine them – but there aren’t. Look at the kitchens, including the outdoor kitchen. The pool, the guest house, the westward expansion, or the lodge and the cabin in the mountains. Look at the solid dwelling, load bearing walls be darned, the stonework, the amazing blending together of exisiting elements that in some cases you’d think would never blend – and yet, through Sharonization, they do. They really, really do. Perhaps this works for a principal similar to Sharon’s business success: the success of others was bound in her own success; the home place works because if wasn’t about building for building’s sake – it was about preparing a dwelling where there was room for every member of the family. Room for Pumpkin hunts, Easter egg hunts, river floats, Thanksgiving at the camp, and no less than 5 Christmas trees – at least one requiring Wayne’s considerable problem solving abilities for the better part of the night to firmly and safely anchor a massive tree in the living room. Polar bears. The white elephant game, including toys and Viagra, a naked body apron. The joke in the family, just in case anyone is counting cost (Sharon was a businesswoman) but Wayne joked: If she lost her credit card, the suggestion was not to report it, because whoever stole it would spend less than she would.
Sharonized. How amazing that one’s life isn’t a string of adjectives: she has her own unique verb.
In the same manner, she masterfully paced the integration of the family. This is an expansive family. Wayne Gey and her children Teri Cloutier (Don), Kristy Raulerson (Weaver), Tracy Hadley Averill (Gary), Cathy DeSimone (Pete), Clark Gey (Lisa) and Meladie Gey-Burke (Andy). Grandchildren: Justin Gey, Ryan Shaughnessy, Valerie Gey, Dillon Dery, Conner LaMontagne, Logan Dery, Trey Cloutier, Lauren Volland, Amrah DeSimone, Allison Burke and Natalie Burke. Great granddaughter: Peyton Gey. She is survived by her brother Wayne Smith and sister Corliss Smith.
This expansive family also includes Sharon’s former husband, Bob and Wayne’s former wife Brenda. This is part of remembering who were are: part of a family in which love and history is honored. The grandchildren know all as one. There are no artificial dividing lines: this is love as love should look for us all.
Sharon leaves a profound legacy identified by her family. For Tracy, it is in strength. For Cathy, it is in unconditional love. For Kristy, it is in passion for life if you’re going to do it, give it everything and be the best, For Teri, it is in giving. For Meladie, it is color, the gift that Sharon gave her, and others, of bringing vitality, hope, and a love of living into the dark shades of tragic loss,
None of us had to fit into a mold. She always instilled a You can do it attitude. Don’t let anyone make you feel lesser for being a woman. She was one of the first women who modeled that one did not need to take shit from anyone.
Wayne reflects wisely that describing Sharon’s legacy can’t be reduced to one word. There is no word, or Words big enough. She taught the meaning of true love and how to do it. She was Gracious: no one comes to her table without feeling safe and warm. She was a fighter. She had deep compassion: for the unfortunate and for animals. She was not afraid to challenge people, including her husband, to check their egos. She was a woman of vision: it’s all around, she scratched it on a yellow pad, she never used designers or architects; she talked a lot about creating memories: went to a lot of effort to record the memories of each year, to record them in books. She made me a better person.
This legacy will live in on in each of us. Even in these last few days, after living with cancer, and I might inject living well with cancer – Sharon was aware that it wasn’t about living forever. It was more about creating something that would. The resources that served her well through her life served her well in these last months. Though the end came quickly, but the day before she wanted to get online to Christmas shop.
Sharon once said wanted to write a book to be titled: You can’t make this sh#@ up!
To Sharon’s family, friends, to all of you – when you feel the sadness of loss, I invite you to remember this moment. Look around here, and look at what love has built. Look at each other, and remember who you are. Remember what you can do, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be willing to give back some of what Sharon gave to you – a wink, an encouraging word, a reminder of what matters most.
There is a heavenly reference to the father’s house with many rooms. We see a glimpse on this earth of what that mansion looks like. It’s the Kingdom of God. It’s under construction right here, right now, in your awareness, in your minds, in your conscience. Through Sharon’s legacy, make room for each other, to expand our hearts. If you choose to do something, don’t do it halfway – do it the best. Welcome everyone to the table. For your success, our success is inextricably bound together. This house, this mansion, this multi-roomed ever expanding “Sharonized” dwelling is a metaphor of a Kingdom that is built with the foundation of love. A house of exuberance, energy, color, fun, and hospitality – the Legacy is left for you to inhabit, and to keep building.