A trib­ute to George Smith, 4th March 2012

George Smith, writer, col­league and friend, died unex­pect­ed­ly on 2nd March 2012 after a long illness.

Written by
Ken Burnett
March 05, 2012
George Smith, who died aged 71, was the leading creative communicator for socially worthwhile causes in Britain and an inspiration to aspiring marketers and copywriters everywhere. He was also a legend among direct marketers, fundraisers and just about everyone who yearns to make the world a better place.

We returned this afternoon from the marriage of George's youngest daughter Jenny to Aaron Fenell at the Winters Barns in Canterbury. The wedding was a roller-coaster of emotions, both draining and spiritually uplifting; the festivities marred of course but not spoiled by the death on the previous day of the father of the bride, George Smith.

We came home to see many tributes to George posted on Twitter and various Internet sites from friends and admirers around the world. George was always leery of social media so we fear he might have felt this a bit unseemly, would have railed against it but, secretly, he'd have been both intrigued and chuffed. He was also a private man embarassed by limelight, not a seeker of personal accolades. So he'd have dismised those with a joke too, though secretly in his heart he'd have been hugely pleased.

George's life deserves celebration for sure, so we'll have lots to say about him in coming months. But rather than rush into anything just now we feel we should simply link SOFII readers to the many tributes to George that have sprung up in the last 24 hours, and to link you too to the stories that we have already from George on the SOFII site. For they are magic and priceless. George was a massive SOFII supporter and a real help to us from the moment we started to put SOFII together.

Today though we would like to tell you a little bit about the great triumph of human spirit that was Jenny and Aaron's wedding.

It is a huge unfairness that, after such a long and brave battle against a terrible, remorseless illness, George died on the day before the wedding of his beloved Jenny. Aaron's family and friends had come over from Australia. A lot of planning and energy had gone into preparations for this special day and George was looking forward to it more than most. The family decided that, as George would have wished, the wedding should go ahead exactly as planned.

George knew what was happening and was determined that his absence should not blight Jenny's special day, so by common consent of family and all the guests, it was not allowed to. The wedding was instead a joyous celebration quite remarkable to see and very moving. Truly, a triumph of optimism over adversity.

George's last words to Jenny were, 'Have fun'. As it turned out, the wedding was really great fun, largely because the spirit of George was everywhere, ensuring that it would be. That and the enormous courage and cheerful determination of Stella, Jenny, Kate, Adam and their families. Joe, Charlie, Marie and I had set off in the morning with heavy hearts, uncertain as to how the day might develop. Initially it was a sombre gathering as word of George's death spread. But following a moving, encouraging oration from George's son-in-law Neil in which he reminded guests that this was Jenny and Aaron's day and that George had determined it should be so, by early into the event the mood had changed completely. George's great friend John Hambley movingly and humorously gave the speech George would have made as father of the bride. Aaron's brothers toasted the bride and had us in stitches. Stella, George's wife, spoke passionately about the fine young couple and there was not a dry eye in the house – but tears of joy, mostly. We then danced, sang and laughed past midnight. It wasn't difficult to do.

George would have loved every moment of it. As Kate Mazur put it, it turned out to be a day for all to remember, not one to forget.

Stella has decided that, as it will come so soon after the wedding, the funeral will be a private family affair but that, later, an event should be held to celebrate George's life and work. So she has asked a small group of his friends to organise this. We won't rush but will let things settle and an announcement will be made soon.

So, we look forward to a celebration to come, one that will record why George Smith was such a great man so universally admired by his peers. It will celebrate some of the finest writing about direct marketing, fundraising and life in general that there has ever been. And it will remind us all of some of the most powerful arguments ever put forward for the rigorous professionalism of our causes and the noble aspiration to excellence that George believed should characterise all fundraisers, as communicators of something he truly valued, that he would call, 'stuff worth doing'.

About the author: Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author of Relationship Fundraising and other books including The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board and Storytelling can change the world, both published by The White Lion Press, UK

In 2021, he wrote and published a book about campaigning fundraising, The essence of Campaigning Fundraising in 52 exhibits and 199 web links.

Ken co-founded SOFII with his late wife Marie and served as a trustee before retiring from the SOFII board in 2022.

Related case studies or articles

UK fundraising’s premier wordsmith: George Smith

Profile by Charlotte Grimshaw.

Dishing the dirt: what people who know George think about him, here.

Read more

Twelve suggestions – and a bit more – to help you write effectively

No one ever felt more keenly about the English language than George Orwell. He was an enemy of cant in any form and particularly waspish about the abuse of English by politicians, bureaucrats and those in power generally. No one has ever rivalled the glittering common sense George Orwell offers us in Politics and the English Language, an essay written as long ago as 1946. I am happy to quote from it extensively because its succinctness has never been bettered.

Read more

The customers always write

In 1983 George Smith was a revered columnist for the UK’s highly regarded Direct Response magazine. The first of the two articles featured here appeared way back then, shortly after the movie Chariots of Fire had come out, and was written as a direct result of one dreadful client meeting.

Read more

George Smith: Working with suppliers, part one

A more serious article than ‘So you seriously want to be a client?, George says that if we really want to be creative in fundraising we have to know how to get help from suppliers.

Read more

George Smith: working with suppliers, part two

Are more people working during their journey to and from the office? George Smith thinks so and says it’s because we spend too much time in meetings.. In the second part of his article on working with suppliers, he shows how to manage those meetings, how to handle the approval process and how charities can achieve a mutually beneficial relationship with suppliers.

Read more

So you seriously want to be a client?

This playful piece from George Smith flips the traditional view of the client/agency relationship on its head and explores how things might look if charities had to do the pitching to become an agency’s client. 

Read more

Dislocation, dislocation...

No one is spared e-mails these days. Be you ever eminent or senior, most of your business messages will now come in this form. I recently winced when I saw an e-missive being sent by a young fundraiser to a prominent sponsor. And how did the missive start?

Read more

George Smith as others see him

From a former colleague who doesn't want the comments attributed. 'Elsewhere on the SOFII website there is a warm tribute to three former giants of fundraising – Sumption, Kirkley and Stringer. It speaks, among much else, of their ability to unleash the energies of their younger colleagues. What it omits to say is that its writer, George Smith, was the most energetic and imaginative of those colleagues and that he changed fundraising practice forever.

Read more

Also in Categories