Juilliard in Aiken co-founder, author Smith dies at 62
Early on Thursday morning, a man known for his drive, intelligence and imagination died at his home.
Gregory White Smith of Aiken was 62 when he died after suffering from a rare brain tumor.
Among his many accomplishments, Smith co-authored 18 books and co-founded the annual Juilliard in Aiken festival with his husband, Steven Naifeh.
Smith and Naifeh were partners for 40 years and married in New York in 2011.
“Spending 40 years together, we came to see with the same eye,” Naifeh said in a release. “In fact, Greg once said, ‘Every time we argue, it catches me by surprise that we're not the same person.'”
Smith lived with the brain tumor since at least 1975, according to a release. In 1987, he was told he would only have three months to live.
“It took enormous grit and determination to stage this heroic ongoing battle against his brain tumor,” Naifeh said.
“Yet, it never robbed him of his passion for life. Or his sweetness. He was so unassuming about his intellectual gifts, so guileless, that he had an extraordinary capacity to help people understand how special they were in their own ways.”
Smith was born in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1951 to hotel owners William R. and Kathryn White Smith.
Smith had been a writer since he was 8.
“Walking to school at that same early age, he would think of a sentence. Then, talking out loud, as he did for the rest of his life, he would try different ways to articulate the same thought, clarifying the idea and giving the words more character and force. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of and gift for words,” according to a press release.
He graduated with honors from Colby College in Maine and had two degrees from Harvard University. While at Harvard, he met Naifeh. The two moved to Aiken in 1989.
Betty Ryberg, of Aiken, was their neighbor for 20 years.
“They gave us a leap into a world that would further make Aiken into a finer place; not just a better place, but a finer place,” she said.
The couple moved into and restored the historic Joye Cottage. The tale of this restoration is told in their book, “On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye.”
In 2009, their house became more than a home. It became part of Aiken's bridge to the arts of New York City.
In 2009, the two helped start the annual Juilliard in Aiken festival.
“Their home of Joye Cottage has been bequeathed to The Juilliard School, so that the artists will forever have Aiken as a place to grow, perform and learn. Aikenites will enjoy this festival and those artists, and Smith's dream will live on for our children and grandchildren,” Ryberg said.
This weeklong event has brought The Juilliard School's students and faculty to Aiken in the form of musicians, dancers and actors for the past six years.
This March, the festival brought a sellout performance that combined the talents of Aiken students, the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the Juilliard415 historical ensemble and more.
This performance was the first time The Juilliard School performed Johann Sebastian Bach's “Saint Matthew Passion.”
“I have such a great respect for Smith,” Dr. Taylor Garnett, Juilliard in Aiken board member, said. “We were very pleased with this year's very successful festival. I'm just lucky to be on the board.”
At the festival's final concert in 2013, Smith and Naifeh were honored for their Juilliard in Aiken contributions.
Before the concert began that night, Ryberg, who now is president of Juilliard in Aiken, and Mayor Fred Cavanaugh surprised them with a key to the City.
“Smith did a lot for this City,” Cavanaugh said. “He was a wonderful man (who) loved people, was a fine citizen and just a friend.”
Funeral arrangements are still being made, according to a press release.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.