May 20, 2008

EMK: This diagnosis is one that is very familiar to my family, since it was a brain tumor that led to the death of my father, the first Steven Smith, ten years ago. Over the course of a month in early-1997, he had begun acting very erratically, at least from what we knew of his personality. His speech patterns had become more rushed, his actions seemed to take on a greater sense of urgency and intensity, and his usual mild-mannered demeanor had dissipated.

One day in March, he just dropped off the radar for a couple of hours, and we spent a horrifying afternoon trying to figure out what happened to him. Finally, we received a call from a Highway Patrolman, who informed us that he had been taken to UCLA Medical after suffering a seizure driving northbound on the 405. It turned out that after meeting with another attorney in the South Bay area, he had driven aimlessly for awhile, sideswapping another car without stopping, before finally getting on the San Diego Freeway, where he eventually careened into the center divider. The CHIPs thought he was drunk, at first, but it soon became apparent that something else was wrong.

Crashing his car in the vicinity of Westwood turned out to be one of the few breaks my father got over the next year and a half. Several days later, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, a metastization of the melanoma he had from nine years earlier. UCLA Medical Center has one of the top cancer research departments on the planet, and considering the initial diagnosis that he had about six months to live, undergoing one of their experimental regiments seemed like the way to go. Believing he was a part of something bigger than himself was one of the things that kept him going for the next year and a half, and my family got to spend more time with him as a result of the innovative treatment he endured. It was painful, nonetheless, and I recall being asked by my dad if I knew where he could get some cannibus, which was ironic, since I've pretty much eschewed drugs my whole life thanks to his draconian anti-drug policies.

He also found another reason to live, at the office. He became determined to keep his position as a Chapter 7 Trustee, and he discovered that the Americans with Disabilities Act* gave him certain protections that could not be denied by the Justice Department. The fact that he his speech had been altered and his reflexes less quick were not excuses to deprive him of a job that he loved. And after eight years of divorce, he found the time to remarry our mother; it was one of life's little oddities that my parents seemed to get closer after they got divorced than while they were married.

In the end, though, it wasn't enough. In August, 1998, he began to fade, frustratingly unable to communicate what was on his still-vibrant mind. He returned to UCLA, and they confirmed what we had feared, that the cancer had returned, and was inoperable. The only thing left to do was to wait for the inevitable, which finally occurred on October 11, 1998, during the fourth game of the NLCS.

*He even went so far as to write a letter to George H.W. Bush, thanking him for signing the ADA into law, while admitting he had never voted for him and that he had even said some cross things about the President during that administration. The first President Bush handwrote a very nice and classy response.


:: jozjozjoz :: said...

Thanks for this moving post about your father and his battle.

Erik Clark said...


I have shared this with you before, but your dad was a Chapter 7 Trustee when I was just starting out in the bankruptcy business. In my early days I was regularly sent to 341(a) hearings in the Valley by my employer. Before every hour your dad would start off with a speech that explained how the debtors in the room had something in common with Thomas Jefferson. He then proceeded to explain how Jefferson had gone through tough financial times and that they should not feel ashamed. He ended by saying that the fact that you are hear is no reflection on how smart a person you are or how good you are. When you leave here turn the page and move on. As his illness progressed he reduced this speech to writing and told debtors to come up and pick up a copy and read it before their examination. I keep a copy of that speech under my desk pad and I refer to it often. I break it out and read it to prospective clients on a regular basis. I think it puts their financial situation in perspective and almost always leaves them in tears of relief. Your Dad was a class act. He was in a role where so many others feed on the fears of debtors yet he sought to put them at ease. I have not, nor will I ever, forget the way he treated my clients. I think he is a model for other Trustees and members of the bankruptcy bar to aspire to.