Those who knew Jon Smith — the actors who performed with him and the staff at Poor Richard’s where he threw pizzas masterfully for 15 years — remember him as a “gentle giant.” Smith, 53, died Thursday at Memorial Hospital after undergoing open heart surgery to fix a tear in his aortic valve, friends said.
“He was probably one of the most loved people I know. Everybody loved him: kids, customers,” said Richard Skorman, who owns Poor Richard’s — a restaurant still reeling from the loss of two managers in a 2005 car accident. “As quiet and humble as he was as a person, Jon would just roar on the stage,” Skorman said. Smith performed regularly at the City Auditorium as a mainstay of the Star Bar Players. “It’s going to be a big loss to the acting community,” said Amy Brooks, an actress who recalled the high caliber of Smith’s recent performance in “Lobby Hero.” “He was an old soul,” she said. “You could tell he was a very deep person.” Jill Peterson, Star Bar’s costumer, described how she had to protect Smith’s 38-inch inseam pants from being hemmed. “When I first met him, I almost felt intimidated by him,” she said. “But he just blew me away, he was so talented.” Smith, who served in the Air Force as a young man, also acted locally with the 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers — a group that stages historical performances. Yet despite being a fixture in the community, Smith is remembered as a private man, most at ease in open spaces. “I met him one day in Manitou in ’88 when he was carrying several gallons of spring water up the mountain to his house,” said Cheri Colburn, one of Smith’s closest friends, who described him as stoic yet warm. After living in Manitou for nearly two decades, Smith moved last year to a ranch in Guffey. “He loved it out in the mountains,” said his sister Dee Smith, 47, of Ashville, N.C. “That was his home. That’s where he wanted to be.” Jon Smith is also survived by a brother, Bob Smith, 55, of Ashville and a sister, Ophelia Bronson, 57, of Atlanta, Ga.