On Saturday, January 14, 2023, Richard A. Smith, loving husband and father of two, passed away at age 63, surrounded by his family.
He is survived by his wife Tanya of 35 years, daughter Taylor and son Jackson. He also leaves behind a variety of indoor and outdoor pets, including his kitten Muffin. Yes, she chose him.
He was preceded in death by his father Russell and his mother Bertha; his brother John; and his friend and best man John Terry. Mr. Terry served as the godparent to both Smith children. In time, his title was changed to Hairy Godfather.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Self-titled “Patron Saint of Lost Causes and Protector of Children and Small Animals,” Rick was a student of life, always learning and ever curious about the world. This passion for learning led to a long and meaningful career as a coach and science teacher.
Rick was born on July 28, 1959, in Kansas City, MO. He liked school and was active in scouts, earning his Eagle Scout. He joined the tribe of Mic-O-Say and belonged to DeMolay International. After graduating from Ruskin High he enrolled at the University of Central Missouri to complete a Bachelor’s of Science Education.
He and Tanya met while they were both working part time jobs for college. After she graduated from Grandview High, Tanya also attended UCM and completed a Bachelor’s of Music Education. They remained a couple throughout school and were married on June 20, 1987.
Their teaching careers began in Missouri but they soon moved to Lawrence and enrolled in The University of Kansas. Both worked as Graduate Assistants in their respective fields and Rick enjoyed additional perks tutoring some of Coach Roy’s basketball players.
“There’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know. The only shame is pretending you know all the answers.”
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
Though college professorship was initially the plan, things changed when they realized they missed teaching their younger students. That’s when they moved to Topeka, took jobs in the area, and began their family.
Rick was soft-spoken, a patient man who loved science, reading about science, and the teaching of science. His other interests included coaching football, track, and wrestling, though some of his athletes just might dispute the soft-spoken characterization.
He was an amazing father. He played every video game ever made with his young son and daughter. That continued whenever they could, even if they came home from college for a weekend. He attended every concert, musical, play, or marching band performance possible. He read bedtime stories and played Blue’s Clues with young son and sang songs about sleepy girl to help get both kids to sleep. In time, he learned how to cook more than pizza and mac and cheese.
He possessed an immensely eclectic taste in music, he attributed his love of classical music to Bugs Bunny, enjoyed M*A*S*H reruns, The Three Stooges, Star Wars, Star Trek, SEAL Team, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert. He was an avid reader of Isaac Asimov and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and quoted them often.
“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
In addition, Rick was active in school activities his entire life. He spent a tremendous amount of time working with students before and after school, always wanting the best for them. He particularly loved teaching at Highland Park High School and it was a bittersweet moment when he retired in 2018. He touched the lives of so many people it was truly rare to visit a store or restaurant in Topeka without encountering one of his former students. He never forgot a name.
A Reception and Visitation will take place on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 at 4:00pm at Penwell-Gabel, 1321 SW 10th Ave, Topeka, KS 66605, followed by funeral services at 6:00.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the American Cancer Society and the Helping Hands Humane Society of Topeka.
“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”
-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Rick's service will be livestreamed at the scheduled time. Click Here
to view the service.