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Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes Boone County a good or bad place to live, based on your perspective.

We lost one of our very own this week when Richard Smith lost a tough battle with complications related to COVID-19 and other underlying health problems.

Richard retired from the Boone County Ambulance Authority in Dec. of 2019 after 38 years of service to his community. His first day on the job with the BCAA was July 7, 1982.

His emergency medical career reached back into the 1970s. His father-in-law, James Kennedy, owned the service for which Smith worked.

In a feature story I wrote about his retirement in Dec. of 2019, he said “I’d like to still teach some in EMS and fire service and spend more time with family,” he said. “My wife (Kathy) has been through an awful lot with her health and I look forward to spending time with her like we’ve always talked about. I don‘t mind slowing down a little, but I’ll never sit still.”

I attached my favorite photo that I took of Richard to this column. He was a willing participant but kept asking me in a natural self-deprecating manner, “Why on earth do you want to take pictures of me?”

I was taken by his selfless nature and his kindness. I’m not one to use the term “friend” flippantly. I believe that words matter. Richard and I weren’t “friends” but I will tell you this; If I had spent more time with him, I would have sought out his friendship. Our professional interactions were stellar and I grew to appreciate his sense of humor, which he revealed to me over time.

After his passing, a motorcade of medical personnel, fire and police vehicles brought him home to Boone County after midnight. I was a long line of people who loved him and respected him and it was touching to me and I’m not easily moved. As I stood there shooting a video for the CVN Facebook Page, I was clearly moved. Well done ladies and gentlemen. It was beautiful.

I put out a message through local connections and social media that I was looking for statements from people who had things that they wanted to express about Richard. The response was overwhelming. The quotes below are cultivated from messages I received from people who were influenced by Richard in their life. I purposefully left job titles off of these names because I believe it is about the people and Richard, therefore I chose not to distract from that with a multitude of agency names and titles. If I have left anyone out who reached out to me, I assure you it was a mistake on my part and I apologize.

I want to wish Richard’s family peace and love through this, a most challenging time. I hope all who knew him find joy in these reflections. I have listed these in an approximate order of when I received them.

Thoughts from those who knew Richard Smith

“As I sit and read all the posts about Richard Smith, it is apparent to me what a superhuman being this man was. He was accomplished throughout the years, a teacher, and a mentor to so many young people. He was a wonderful husband and friend to all he met. I now realize that I missed out on a special person, a man among men, and the chance to hear and share some of the stories that Richard had told to so many friends. When I had the opportunity to speak to Richard, he was always smiling, friendly and very easy to talk to. He will be sadly missed by everyone that knew him, and that met him.

I do send my condolences to all his family and friends, and my thoughts and prayers will be with the family during this sad and heartbreaking time.

 - Craig Bratcher

“Richard Smith has inspired many young EMS and firefighters to be better in our field. Richard had tons of knowledge in the EMS field and enjoyed passing it on to others. Richard taught my very first “First Responder” class when I was a very young firefighter and many classes after that and I always learned something new in each class. With this said, the thing I’ll remember most about Richard is that he was honest, caring and loved his family.”

- Larry Nunnery

“Today I learned of the passing of Boone County Ambulance Authority Paramedic Richard Smith due to complications with COVID-19. Although I never had the privilege to meet Mr. Smith, the outpouring of grief and condolences from our communities across Boone County is a testimony to his service and kindness. Mr. Smith’s 37 years of serving Boone County will always be remembered. I offer my condolences to Mr. Smith’s family and friends and all of those who loved him.”

- Josh Holstein

“Richard was one of the guys that you wanted to look up and see when things were bad. His skills, professionalism and most of all compassion were the perfect combination.  Richard became a friend to all who had the pleasure to cross paths with him.”

- Jason Estep

“Richard impacted my life in ways that I will never forget. I met Richard in 2018. I was at Van High School and passed out. He responded to the call with his partner Trevor Vance. I had health issues going on, so I saw Richard frequently. One day he asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I told him I wanted to go into the medical field. He told me I would be an amazing EMT/Paramedic. Richard always knew how to cheer me up. He taught me how to deal with bad situations. When I got accepted to my EMT class I told him, and he said “make us proud girl!” I will never forget all the encouraging things he told me. He will truly be missed.”

- Maddie Howell

“My son William had the croup He was about 2 years-old.  The emergency room Dr. ordered him to Women and Children’s Hospital in Charleston. They needed to place an IV in him. No one at the hospital could get the IV in him but Richard did. I was so grateful but also impressed.

Richard also taught an EMT B class i attended. He was an excellent instructor.  It was in the 1990s but I still remember it. I forgot to mention that William is 24 now.”

- Dusty Leary

“To know Richard was to love him. He was a kind hearted, caring, and a very compassionate man. Richard loved his job and helping the citizens of Boone County. You could always count on a warm smile and a hug when Richard greeted you. His stories and sneaky tricks will be missed.  His name and memories will continue to carry on because of all the lives he has touched and help mold.

We will miss you!! Rest Easy.

- Christi Eller

“Richard was a wonderful man. His smile and personality would light up a room. He had the ability to befriend anyone and everyone he met seemed to like him. His bedside manner was unparalleled by anyone I have ever met in this field. Richard served the ambulance service in many roles. His leadership, even when not in a leadership role, was equally unparalleled.

It was a true pleasure to work with Richard, but even more of a pleasure to call him my friend. This world has truly lost a great paramedic, a very community minded individual, and great patient advocate. More so, his work family has truly lost a brother- a person that could be called upon at any time for any reason - a person that loved his family and work family without judgement. Rest In Peace in Heaven brother! Until we meet again!”

- Dan Alvis

“I met Richard in about 1988. I was on the fire department at Van. I was interested in becoming an EMT and talked to Richard about it.  I enrolled in EMT class, that he and Penny Byrnside was teaching.

Richard always had a way to teach people how to be a good EMS Provider. Now, sometimes this wasn't about how to splint, or control bleeding, he did those things too. But, what Richard taught was compassion.  Sometimes, Richard would just listen, and with a pat on the arm, or shoulder, and his ever- present smile, the patient seemed to respond to his calming demeanor. When I would see that Richard was working out of the Van Station, I would stop in and see him.  As soon as I walked in the door, He would always have me to complete a full patient assessment before we talked about anything else.  It was his way of making sure that this "skill" of being an EMT became second nature to me.

You see, Richard was a teacher! He taught a lot of people how to not only be a good EMT and tutored those to become paramedics.

Richard was by-far, one of the best people I have ever known. He was more than a paramedic to his patients.  He was their friend. He may have only transported them once, but, his patients always remembered him.  It may have not been that he saved their life with his paramedic skills, but, maybe with his gentle touch, warm smile and caring attitude. We have not only lost a retired paramedic, but, a brother and a friend.”

- Bryan Justice

“In law enforcement, we work hand in hand with other first responders from fire and EMS on a daily basis.  As the years pass and the shifts pile up, a lot of faces come and go as people move on to other jobs or professions, but a few remain.  A few become friends throughout time and throughout tragic events.  A few you watch work and teach and you gain the utmost respect for, because they are legends in their field.  Paramedic Richard Smith was a true legend, a gentle giant and such a kind and genuine soul.  The mark he left on our county and its emergency services will never be forgotten.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, family, friends and former coworkers.

- Chad Barker

“Richard and I first met in 2008 when I joined the Wharton-Barrett Volunteer Fire department as a junior firefighter. I eventually got my EMT card and went to work for Boone County Ambulance in 2011. In 2015 I was transferred to work on a truck with Richard and he was my full-time partner for the next 3.5 years. During our time together we became more than just work partners. We became family. My son was almost two when me and Richard started working together. Me and him were working together when my daughter was born in 2016. He was able to watch my kids grow up until his passing. They would come and visit us at the station and hang out sometimes. I left the ambulance service at the end of 2018 but me and Richard still stayed in contact. He and his wife would come and visit us from time to time and on a couple occasions we would all go out to eat.  Richard taught me a lot of stuff while working with him but one thing that still stands out in my mind  is that no matter who the patient is treat them like they are family. Then he would say if an ambulance crew were to pick up one of his family members he would want them to be treated right.”

- Trevor Vance

“Simply said, working lots of tragic cases through my career as a deputy and as Sheriff, I saw lots of people hurting at times. It was always comforting to see Richard Smith roll in to have our backs and take such great care of the people of Boone County when they needed it most. It never failed, in the middle of the night or midday, lives in Boone Co were saved and made better by his care and dedication. I saw his compassion. I’m proud and honored to call him a friend.”

- Rodney Miller

“Richard and I were hired at BCAA on the same day Dec 13 1985. Richard was a soft soul slow to anger, always had time for an encouraging word. Loved to teach others and loved his job. He never hurried and did his job and did it well. I can imagine there are hundreds who he has helped , saved or even cared for families in their time of loss that’s just who he was. The community and EMS community has lost a true friend.”

- Suewanee Pauley

“I met him when I was six years-old and my dad started working at the BCAA. I don’t remember a time when Richard Smith wasn’t a part of my life.  There never was a time that I saw him that he didn’t greet me with that big smile, a “Hey, Jenn”! and a great big hug. Richard was my dad’s best friend. My dad called him every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Even after my dad’s leg was amputated, Richard made sure to include him in his ATV rescue classes, because he knew he loved it so much.

I loved any time we could talk, but I thought it was especially cool when Richard would bring me a patient when I worked in the STICU. I called him “my other dad” because he looked out for me the same way my dad did. Just a few weeks ago, there was an explosion at the chemical plant by my house and Richard was the first person texting to check on us. To me, Richard was the GOAT (greatest of all time). Nobody will ever be able to fill his shoes!”

- Jennifer Justice Keeney

“I am Richard Smith’s niece. He’s my mom’s baby brother. I wanted to give a family perspective about Richard. He was affectionately known to us as Uncle Rick. He was the best uncle a kid could have. That same big smile that others have mentioned is what my sisters and brother saw from him every time that we saw him all through the years.

He was so gentle, so funny, so loving and helped every person that crossed his path and needed him. in his personal and professional life.  Few compared to who he was. He is going to be missed by his family immensely!”

- Faith Rae Webb Cooper

“I’ve known Richard most of my adult life, I first met him when I became a junior firefighter at the age of sixteen. Richard was an instructor in my firefighter 1 class and was there when I was a young EMT with the ink still wet on my card, I continued to work with him throughout my career as I became more seasoned. I had the honor and privilege of working with him for ten years, many of those opposite of him at Station 20. Richard was not only a co-worker, but a mentor, teacher, and friend. Rest easy Richard, you will be remembered and missed by many.”

- Josh Brown