Jeffrey James Smith, age 58, of Cle Elum WA, died at home August 22, 2019 in the loving arms of his wife Amanda and son Beckett, after a year-long struggle with esophageal cancer. It was a struggle he knew from the outset that he couldn’t win. Nevertheless, he faced his fate with courage, grace, and his irrepressible good humor.
Jeffrey was born of humble beginnings to struggling – yet ultimately extremely successful – farmers near Walnut Grove MN (yes, THE Walnut Grove). At age one-and-a-half, he was involved in a near life-threatening accident on the farm resulting in numerous broken bones and severe hemorrhaging that forced him into a protracted hospital stay of six weeks, followed by several months of recovery and rehabilitation at home. Surviving this – plus the rigors of farming life – gave Jeffrey both an innate resiliency for life and an appreciation of the land and its potential bounty. He was an active 4-H member, winning numerous animal husbandry prizes both locally and statewide and remained a day-to-day contributor to the successful business his parents’ farm ultimately became.
His early years in Walnut Grove also exposed and nurtured Jeffrey’s many talents that became his passions in life, one of which was billiards. His parents bought a pool table when he was in the 10th grade, on which he quickly honed his skills. Self-taught, Jeffrey rose to expert level, playing against – and most often defeating – the best teams in Minnesota. He won the Minnesota Collegiate Championship at age 19, the all-around State Pool Championship that same year, and still holds the National Collegiate Record as the only player ever undefeated in four consecutive regional championships. Ultimately, he was ranked 3rd nationally at a competition in Atlanta GA the following year. When he moved to Seattle – and finally to Cle Elum to help Don Watts establish Swiftwater Cellars – he brought his pool skills with him, most recently claiming First Place in the U.K.C. 8 Ball competition with his team.
Another notable passion of Jeffrey’s was vocal music. He began performing at local gatherings and talent contests in the Walnut Grove area at age five, and was a member of the All-State Chorus in Minnesota in the ninth grade. But it wasn’t until college at St. Cloud State (MN) that he found his true musical calling: singing opera. He began professional vocal lessons with Chuck Peterson at St. Cloud State and went on to capture leading roles in productions at college and across the state.
In fact, Jeffrey’s move to Washington came as a result of following his college vocal coach’s move to Seattle. He continued his musical career earning lead roles in productions like The Mikado, Camelot, Oklahoma and many more in and around the Emerald City. But musical theater wasn’t an easy way to make a living in those days. So Jeffrey applied his charm and affability skills to the hospitality industry, most notably as a server at one of the finest steak houses in the country, the Metropolitan Grill in Seattle, for fifteen years. During that time, his study, intimate knowledge, and unparalleled palate of and for wine quality earned him the position as head sommelier at the Met, with responsibility for selecting over $1 million of wine per year for the restaurant.
He was also able to combine his musical talents with his work at the Met – and at other venues – by emceeing special events, his favorite of which was St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Billing himself as ‘Jeffrey O’Smith’, he gained fame throughout the Seattle area for his written and recited limericks, traditional Irish songs, and jokes a minute that always brought down the house. Later in life, he took up the piano and used that acquired skill to contribute to church services as well as entertaining friends.
Jeffrey was a man for all seasons, and a fan for all seasons. He was an ardent follower of Tiger Woods on the PGA circuit, and the Seahawks, Huskies and Vikings on the gridiron.
Jeffrey is preceded in death by parents Charlotte and Duane, brothers Steven and David. He is survived by wife Amanda, son Beckett, sisters Kathy (Michael) Fiala, Belinda (John) Henle, brothers Blair (Tania), Guy (Elizabeth), and many nieces and nephews. Interment will be in Calvary Cemetery, Walnut Grove MN alongside his parents and two brothers at a future date. Memorials to the family are preferred.