As Black History Month comes to a close, February delivered a devastating blow with the death of B. Smith, whose pioneering role as an African American entrepreneur cannot be overstated.
Barbara Elaine Smith’s business empire came from modest roots, fed by a passion and commitment, and a willingness to do the hard work that is necessary for success for anyone, but more so during her lifetime for a black woman. She delivered papers, worked at hospitals, babysat and even sold lemonade to save up enough to attend modeling school after graduating high school. She parlayed her modeling success into so much more, including television, restaurants and interior design.
Her death on Saturday at age 70, after a long battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, is a tragic end to a brilliant, inspiring career. A friend remembered her generosity, even as success came: “She wasn’t someone who accomplished these things and then just said, ‘Oh, well, now I’m here and you’re there, and I’m living this new fabulous life.’ She brought people with her.”
Sag Harbor was important to her, and she was essential to the village and the entire East End. But her importance goes far beyond celebrity: B. Smith was an American success story, to be celebrated by all, and to inspire the next generation of young women to overcome the challenges and find success — and bring others with them as they do.