Eric Emerson Smith

eric smith
A Tribute to Eric Emerson Smith

Eric Emerson Smith, 53, passed away peacefully at home on February 22, 2023, surrounded by his adoring family. Eric lived an extraordinary life and had immeasurable influence on those who knew him. He triumphed over a spinal cord injury, suffered at the age of 14 while body surfing in Dewey Beach, DE, to live a productive, impactful life characterized by incredible resilience, steady perseverance and quiet resolve.

A quadriplegic for most of his life, his intellect knew no boundaries. Returning to high school only four months after his injury, he went on to earn three degrees from George Mason University: a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with High Distinction; a Masters in Operations Research; and a Ph.D. in Information Technology. He started his career at the Central Intelligence Agency and worked in data analysis for 20 years for Noblis, a federal government contractor.

Eric was the grandson of a three-star general, Emerson C. Itschner, who served in World War II and helped orchestrate the invasion of Normandy, and the son of William T. Smith, a Liverpudlian, who survived the Blitzkrieg as a child in England. He inherited a determined stoicism and used it to play the very difficult hand he was dealt with grace and dignity.

Eric was a lifelong learner and avid reader. He was particularly interested in world history. Perhaps his most passionate pursuit was following his beloved Liverpool Football Club. A win by “the lads” would always put Eric in a noticeably chipper mood; a loss met with disgust and a thoughtful critique of a flawed strategy. He was quick witted and keenly insightful.

Why did Eric have to live such a hard life? We won’t fully know until we are also called home. But one can see the many ways it worked for good.

He was a role model for all of us, including nine nieces and nephews who received Eric’s constant encouragement and support in all their pursuits. His character and perseverance in the face of challenges most will never face will undoubtedly have a lasting influence on their lives.

He drew his family together and made us closer. In the early years after his injury, his mother and father quickly adapted and rededicated their lives to caring for Eric, the youngest of five, while allowing their other children to finish their schooling, establish careers and start families. A physician, an engineer, and a law school graduate are among his siblings’ credentials. As the family grew, so too did the love that surrounded Eric. Family gatherings were constant, Eric always at the center, and the joyful time we have spent together is part of his legacy.

For 30 years, Eric’s extended family gathered for a summer vacation in Deep Creek Lake (DCL), MD, thanks to the kind generosity of the Edgerton family who installed a ramp to make “Later Days,” their beautiful vacation home, accessible to Eric. DCL vacations – filled with laughter, long days of endless lake fun, talent shows, Uno’s deep-dish pizza, happy hours, etc. – are a gift from the Edgerton family that we will never be able to repay. With Eric’s passing, we remember Amy, the Edgerton’s daughter and Eric’s best friend, who played such an instrumental role in Eric’s transition back to high school following his injury.

The people drawn into our lives, who became part of our family, are among the good things that came out of Eric’s injury. Robin McCusker, Eric’s loyal physical therapist for 38 years, and her family are part of

our family. So too are Alida and Farid Haidar who for 25 years played a vital role in Eric’s daily care. We will forever be grateful to Noxie Jonga who two years ago took over weekday overnight care for Eric.

Finally, the powerful examples of sacrificial love that surrounded Eric are part of the good that sprang from his life. His sister Janet, who raised her family two doors down from Eric, took on a major role in Eric’s care over the years. So did Jackie, Eric’s other sister, the physician who skillfully directed Eric’s care in his final years and days as health challenges became more acute. Eric’s brother, Colin, the engineer, always returned home when reinforcements were needed. Colin was the fixer and jimmy rigger who made Eric’s life easier. Colin and Bill, the oldest Smith sibling, logged countless hours pulling for the lads and enjoying other sports with Eric.

The ultimate demonstration of sacrifice and love came from Eric’s mother, Gail, our “Gigi.” Eric lived a good life because of her unrelenting devotion and dedication. Gigi would often say, “This is not the life we would have chosen, but we are going to make it the best life possible for Eric.” And so she did. When a family member acknowledged all she had done over 39 years to make Eric’s life the best it could be, she said, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40: 29-31

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:5

View current weather.

Memories Timeline


  1. I write as Eric’s PhD dissertation director at George Mason University. Eric has been an inspiration to me, and I believe a role model to many, in the strength of the human spirit.

    As a student, Eric would attend class seated in his wheelchair, and he would sit and listen. He couldn’t take notes because he couldn’t write. And my classes in advanced nonlinear optimization were very technical. Yet every week Eric would turn in the best homeworks among his classmates. They were always typed up, even though they were heavily mathematical. How did Eric type his homeworks? This was before the days of voice recognition or other such mechanisms. Eric typed his homework using a special pen placed in his mouth, literally pecking at the keyboard, a tap at a time. And that is also how he wrote his whole dissertation. Imagine that!

    And more about his PhD dissertation. The title is “Parameter Estimation in Array Signal Processing via Nonlinear Semidefinite Programming.” Eric tackled a challenging problem using an intricate and novel mathematical approach. Looking at the 190-page document I am as in awe today as I was when Eric completed it. He was brilliant! Eric was awarded the 1999 Outstanding Graduate Student Award by the Faculty of the School of Information Technology and Engineering (now known as the College of Engineering and Computing).

    Eric was always upbeat. I recall at least three times during his studies when he was hospitalized due to lung infections. He would come back and have all his assignments completed, and with a smile on his face. He never ever complained. Never. And he was good spirited. he was the original As more E. Smiths joined Mason, he would frequently get emails intended to other students. He would always kindly respond (using the pen in his mouth) to the sender and would typically try to direct them to the correct

    I am very proud and privileged that such an extraordinary individual was part of our academic programs. I salute Eric for the life of success he has led despite his severe physical handicap.

    Ariela Sofer
    Interim Divisional Dean for Engineering
    College of Engineering and Computing
    George Mason University

  2. We were saddened to learn today about Eric’s passing almost a year ago. We got to know him and his beautiful family while living a few houses down from him in McLean from 1997 till 2001. Many hours did our two young sons play with Eric’s nieces and nephew and all the other neighborhood kids on Eric’s front lawn. Eric would often ride down and watch them, while Bill would be coaching whatever game they were playing, and Grandma Gigi would make sure popsickles were ready for afterwards. Happy times, and it was difficult to say goodbye and return to the Netherlands.
    We last met Eric and Gigi in the summer of 2022 when we returned to for a brief visit. We hope Eric is at peace now. We are thankful for having known him.

Sign the Guestbook, Light a Candle

Accessibility Tools