Mark of a Man
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Jan 01, 2019
The industry returned from Thanksgiving weekend to sad news: Mark E. Smith, General Manager at Pride Mobility Products and Quantum Rehab, had passed away on Sunday, Nov. 25.
Mark’s day job included overseeing the companies’ public relations, which meant he closely worked with the industry press. That was great for me, but maybe not for Mark. My requests for interviews on the differences among power wheelchair configurations or the benefits of seat elevation were often accompanied by “…and sorry, but I’m on deadline, Mark.”
Having been born with cerebral palsy, Mark was a full-time power wheelchair user. He’d had no independent mobility in his earliest years; when he finally got a power chair at age 5, Mark immediately learned the difference that mobility makes.
It was a lesson he devoted his life to sharing. Professionally, Mark provided feedback as Quantum designed and developed new seating and power chairs. But he also educated policy makers on Capitol Hill and consumers and families at Abilities Expos. He wrote tech stories and blogs. In early 2017, when American Airlines removed him and his power chair from a flight without explanation, Mark shared his experiences with the hope of improving the skies for everyone.
“I’m not looking for anything other than to raise awareness of this type of discrimination,” he told me at the time. “These dehumanizing situations occur, and they shouldn’t, and I don’t want them to happen to anybody else. There are so many people who are already struggling with anxiety and fear and self consciousness. Can you imagine if this had been someone’s first flight who was struggling with those emotions already? They wouldn’t leave their house again.”
Everyday freedoms such as living his life with his family without being stared at didn’t always come easily to Mark, and I often marveled at how he remained so gracious, so funny and a little irreverent in the face of blatantly ignorant behavior. How did he do it? I don’t know.
Upon hearing of Mark’s passing — he was only 47 — I recalled a famous quote from Roman statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Life, if well lived, is long enough. For this moment, that quote is cruelly insufficient. Mark Smith was not with us long enough. We still do not have a level playing field for everyone, including those with disabilities, and the work that remains feels heavier with one of our champions gone.
There is no doubt, though, that Mark’s was a life well lived. He took the difficult landscape he was born into and made it better not just for himself, but for others. So I found this quote by writer Omoakhuana Anthonia: A life of service is a life well and greatly lived.
Thank you, Mark.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.