In Memoriam: Jay Smith

Remembering longtime Mensa member Jay Smith, who passed away October 17, 2008


Donations in memory of Jay are being accepted by the Mensa Foundation for the Jay Smith Arts Scholarship. Donations may be sent to:

Mensa Education & Research Foundation
1315 Brookside Drive
Hurst, TX 76053-3942



By Nadine McBeth, November 2008

We are here to celebrate the life of Jay Smith. Just as he celebrated life through art, music, theater, and many other ways, we celebrate him.

First, a few facts about his life.

Jay was born in Chicago on September 13, 1925. His father died when he was quite young; his mother remarried and his new father adopted him. His only sibling was his sister Carolee who preceded him in death; he had three nephews and a niece.

What schools he attended aren't really known. Jay wasn't a big talker about himself or his past, preferring to discuss a myriad of other things. Helen Kupper, his companion of many years, thinks he may have gone to Purdue and the University of Chicago. He owned his own business making high-end loudspeakers and held a patent on a particular loudspeaker diaphragm.

He was married to Irene Meehan in 1950; she died in 1991. They had no children.

But none of that begins to give you the measure of the man Jay was. Mild mannered like Clark Kent, he became superman when dealing with words. He knew lots of obscure words and didn't hesitate to use them in Boggle or other word games. Boggle will never be the same without the words Jay made up and the definitions he made up to convince us they were legitimate words. We developed a special category of words known as "Jay words" for those things that looked like they ought to be words even if they weren't. If one was wise, one always wrote those strange things down because you might match Jay. To be told, "You think like Jay," was either a great compliment or a sign you needed to see a psychiatrist, depending on your interpretation.

Although he created his own modern art objects and was in charge of ALBAMS (the art lovers booze and marching society), his drawings for Fiendish Armchair Treasure Hunt were notorious for their inscrutability. Since he liked to draw bugs, there were bugs aplenty in the clues, even when they didn't have anything to do with solving the puzzle. Squiggly lines and lopsided circles translated into places in the world. With lots of unheard of places and a mind fey enough to tie together twelve unrelated places into a single theme, he kept contestants guessing and groaning for over thirty years at HalloweeMs, RGs and AGs.

What charade player can forget Jay's bird imitations? Even if there were no birds in the title or saying he was acting out, Jay would often put a bird into his acting just because he liked to do birds. Crazy puns, names of paintings, lines from books no one else ever read all found their way into charades, courtesy of Jay.

For a while I participated in annual trips to Milwaukee with Jay and Helen and a few others where in 24 hours we had lunch at the art museum, toured the museum, attended the International Folk Fair; ate German, English, Swedish or whatever caught one's fancy for dinner, went to one and sometimes two other museums, toured the botanic gardens known as the Domes, had lunch at the Knickerbocker hotel (getting lost every single year trying to find the hotel) and then headed home before dinner.

Touring the art museum with Jay was like having your own private tour guide as he explained each artist, told interesting facts from the artist's life and why the painting looked the way it did. And I never felt lectured to; it was just friends discussing art.

Jay's apartment was filled with art works, books and orchids. I remember my first visit there for a Survivor's party for WeeM volunteers. There was a long hallway to the left as you came in the door — I'm guessing 25 or 30 feet long, with floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled to overflowing. In the dining room were orchids, a wall full of them. In the living room you found mysterious, usually unidentifiable, objects of modern art. And he had cats, several of them, all of advanced age. To me, a then-timid overprotected suburbanite, it was overwhelming with erudition, charm, free-spiritedness, albeit overcrowded in trying to hold all of Jay's varied interests.

He was a wonderful friend. Quiet, funny, supportive, flexible and yet he could be exasperating and obtuse when he wanted to be. We shared a birthday and I hope that means something of Jay has rubbed off on me. Jay will be sorely missed.

Celebrating the life of Jay Smith

Reflections by Vicki Snavely, October 2008

Jay Smith was a quiet man with an impish grin and the twinkliest eyes I've ever seen. He had a quirky sense of humor and since I love to laugh at other people's bad puns and silly humor, our friendship was assured from the start.

My first Mensa event was HalloweeM V, 1980. Jay and Helen were two of the people I met that weekend. Jay was the Loc Sec then. I think he and Helen were at every Mensa event I went to for the next several months. Shortly after meeting Jay, I moved into his neighborhood. I don't drive and Jay went to a lot of Mensa events. I was lucky enough to be his frequent passenger.

My mind is filled with images:

Playing Boggle as Jay, grinning impishly, defends the addition of preposterous suffixes and prefixes to otherwise perfectly good words. We always called them Jay words.

Dropping off Helen in Hyde Park after a Mensa event. Enjoying the beauty and magic of Lake Shore Drive while listening to Jay's theories on how to build proper roads.

Watching Jay's horrible grimaces as he described how he learned as a teenager that one should never eat blue food. This led to the blue birthday cake that someone (I think it was Shelly MacGregor) baked one year to tease him.

Trying to act like a responsible adult and not giggling while Jay was whispering horrible puns in my ear on a hotel search for HalloweeM.

Jay & Helen always picking exactly the right summer Games & Conversation to bring the Root Beer and Ice Cream for floats.

Jay's serious side when he shared some very wise thoughts as the GOBS Trustees met with Burton in the many meetings we had to discuss the formation of the trust.

Riding with Jay as he drove from The Art Institute end of the Grant Park Garage to the Library end, during a visit to The Art Institute. Someone in the group mentioned an interesting free exhibit at The Chicago Public Library so he tacked a bonus round onto that ALBAMS outing.

Trying to act like a responsible adult and not laughing loudly while Jay was whispering horrible jokes in my ear at The Art Institute.

Jay's look of delight, when I confessed one day, "Jay, I'm getting worried. I think I'm beginning to understand Milo Mulch." in reference to his nearly incomprehensible Milo Mulch column in ChiMe.

Jay saying volumes with a crooked smile and a shrug of his shoulders when I asked him last HalloweeM how he was doing. I had just learned about his cancer.

Jay eating ice cream and apple pie 2 days before he died.

I celebrate that Jay Smith added so many smiles to my life.

(photo by Carol Metzger)

(photos by John Muellner)

Tap/Click on a photo to enlarge.

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