After attending the Honorable Allen Smith’s wake I told my wife, “the world needs more Allen Smiths.”
I came to know Allen through my family. Back in the day, Allen and my grandfather used to duck hunt together. Our families’ pasts were interwoven over the years with many common stories. Allen’s law firm to this day occupies the old Stark family homestead on Roanoke Avenue. Many times, during my visits to his office, he would remind me how many family members walked through those same doors.
Allen always had a keen sense of history and the many cardboard boxes that took up his floor space contained the old Riverhead family names we all would recognize.
Always informal, Allen would motion you into his office, and inevitably tell me to shut the door and then intone, “Let me tell you what Uncle Allen thinks about this deal.” He always had the pulse of the particular matter we were working on. His advice, in hindsight, was generally spot on. He knew that, like most families, there were different personalities involved, and the seemingly straightforward approach sometimes would certainly contain unique stumbling blocks.
His innate ability to explain legal advice, coupled with sound business judgment, was always matter-of-fact. The best part was that he usually dispensed said words with a sly, knowing smile and the occasional profanity. I always thought of him more as a big brother than a family attorney.
But in addition to being a great mentor, Allen had a soft spot for his hometown. The reason I loved Allen so much was that instead of just moaning about a problem he got out and tried to change it. His political life encompassed a stint as supervisor. He volunteered for the fire department. For some reason he took the most thankless job ever, school board president. He was a longtime Rotarian, and I saw up close how he would take the dirtiest jobs and perform them with a smile. He selflessness was second to none.
Allen was also old school, one day I sent him an email, but he told me he didn’t use email. Just as well, his effectiveness was undiminished since he didn’t dwell on social media and spin his wheels on trivial crap.
In a small community he knew he could have a bigger impact by doing the little things. With his educational background I’m sure he could have become a “big time” corporate lawyer, or a hot shot litigator at some white shoe firm, but Allen never sought the spotlight. He was happy to do all the little things small town lawyers do. His talents were spent on all those seemingly mundane matters but he knew that they were important to his friends and neighbors. Allen did all the everyday work that comprise a small practice: estate planning, real estate purchases, incorporating small businesses. He just got up every day and did his job — and he did it well.
Today we live in an instant gratification society but Allen was the antithesis of this mindset. He took his time and always had the long view. He volunteered, he gave his time, he listened. Whether on the bench or in the office, he always gave of himself. Sometimes he told you things you didn’t want to hear, but it was sage advice.
In the end, he gave of his personal time and made Riverhead a better place. He didn’t tout himself or desire a pat on the back, he just went out and did it. This refreshing attitude is what is needed today in a world gone mad.
We need more leaders, we need less victims, we need more selflessness. We need more Allen Smiths.
Brian Stark is the president of Stark Homes, Inc. of Riverhead
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