Barbara B. Smith seemed unstoppable. The former model became an entrepreneur, opened up several restaurants under her name. She became a lifestyle guru with a TV show and magazine. Then she was struck with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. She succumbed to the disease on Feb. 23, at the age of 70.
“Heaven is shining even brighter now that it is graced with B’s dazzling and unforgettable smile,“ her husband, Dan Gasby, said in a lengthy Facebook post.
Smith’s eponymous first restaurant opened in 1986 in Manhattan and attracted affluent Black New Yorkers, among others, the New York Times recalled. Essence magazine described the restaurant as the place ‘where the who’s who of Black Manhattan meet, greet, and eat regularly,’” The Guardian reported. In all, B. Smith founded three restaurants.
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B. Smith wrote three cookbooks and launched a nationally syndicated TV show with the Discovery Channel and magazine, which was published by American Express. She also launched a line of home products line called At Home with B. Smith and became the first Black woman to have a product line to be sold at a nationwide US retailer. It included housewares, bed linens, and furniture.
As a model, she became the second Black model to be on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976, after Jolie Jones in 1969.
While B. Smith was often called the “Black Martha Stewart,” she had other thoughts on the comparison.
“Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years,” she said in a 1997 interview with New York magazine. “We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first.”
Smith and Gasby co-authored a book, “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s,” and partnered with the Brain Health Registry.
After her diagnosis, B. Smith went missing for several hours in 2014 but was found unharmed.
“In 2018, Gasby revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman while caring for his ailing wife, leading to harsh criticism from some fans. He fired back at critics with a Facebook post about the pain of living with Alzheimer’s in the family,” The Guardian reported.
“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” he told the Washington Post last year, but not in ’till death do you part. If the person you love, he said, is no longer mentally or emotionally present, he doesn’t believe “that you should sit there and watch your life shrivel up…”
Smith is survived by Gasby and her stepdaughter, Dana Gasby.