Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Friendship with Glenn Smith was complicated


Glenn Smith was a talented photo journalist who was at home at a superspeedway.
Glenn Smith was a talented photo journalist who was at home at a superspeedway.

The first time I met Glenn Smith, it was in the old Ledger-Enquirer sports department. He was this local computer guy who’d come by to ask if we could get him photo credentials for the Indianapolis 500.

I am certain my response was, “Sure, pal. Want to take the company Learjet, too?”

It was 1990, maybe ‘91. I was either assistant sports editor or sports editor. Those are just details — and like many things about Glenn Smith, the details are a little fuzzy.

For some reason, we got him the credentials. Don’t ask me why because it was probably against my better judgment, which was my management style back then. All I remember was the credential form was lengthy and we fudged some of the details, like the fact that he actually worked for us, to get him the pass.

Smith came back that summer to thank us for credentialing him. And he brought us a little gift — some of the most amazing motorsports photography I have ever seen. Spectacular. The car was airborne and on fire.

There are photographers who go a career and and don’t get that shot. The computer guy scored on his first race. In my mind, it is the same thing as a Little Leaguer getting called up to the big leagues and hitting a grand slam in Yankee Stadium on his first at-bat.

Pretty soon he didn’t have to worry about us getting his credentials. He was shooting for the Indianapolis Star and Associated Press. If he wanted to cover a race, there was a photo chief somewhere who got him a slot.

His race photos since that time have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine’s Year In Pictures, USA Today, People magazine, The New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Indianapolis Star.

Think about that.

Professional photographers will tell you shooting auto races is a difficult assignment at best. First, at somewhere like Indy, Daytona and Talladega, you have to cover a track that is at least 2.5 miles long. And odds are, the action is not going to happen in front of you and your long lens.

So you have to be really good — and lucky and instinctive.

Glenn was like all the good ones. At some point you wondered why he got lucky every race.

For a while he still lived in Columbus and would stop by the office — “the place where they took a chance on me,” he called it — and chat. He would show us the latest pictures out of Daytona, Indy, Atlanta or Talladega.

Almost always a wreck. Almost always spectacular. One time he showed me a photo of a driver and his family — it was an Indy guy but for the life of me I can’t tell you who it was — before a race. It was the last family photo they would take because the driver died in a fiery crash that day.

Right place, right time. That was Glenn Smith. Or so I thought.

He wasn’t just an auto racing guys. He shot photos for the Columbus Cottonmouths for a while. He was a good hockey photographer. He could get the action and the fights.

Over the years, Glenn popped back into my world. He was in Boise as the team photographer for the Idaho Steelheads, a minor league hockey team. That’s a long way from Hardaway High School, where he graduated.

He was down on his luck. Over the last couple of years, he has called or sent Facebook messages asking for money. One time he needed it for a hotel room for the night.

He had a desperation in his voice. I made up some half-hearted reason I couldn’t help. Something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t much of a friend, was I?

Two weeks ago, I was on deadline and Glenn called the office phone. We talked for maybe five minutes. It was all about Braves baseball. I remember something he said.

“There’s just no hope.”

I agreed and ushered him off the phone with some half-hearted excuse. In my mind, I didn’t give him a chance to ask for anything.

Two days later, a friend — a better person than me who actually helped Glenn when he was down on his luck — sent me a Facebook message and asked if I had heard about Glenn.

What about him?

Glenn was dead.

He died in Boise on Oct. 2 due to complications from pneumonia, according to the obit in the Idaho Statesman.

Talk about wanting a phone conversation back. Why didn’t I ask him the decent question, like, “How are you doing, man?”

I know why. Months back when he asked for money, I built a wall.

The last week, I have spent a lot of time thinking about Glenn. I was going to say I have spent a lot of time thinking about my friend. But I wasn’t much of a friend.

That’s what hurts. I should have invested in trying to figure out what was going on with him.

He is survived by a daughter, son and grandson, all of Las Vegas, according to his obit.

One line in that obit stood out.

“Glenn felt blessed to have such a devoted family, wonderful friends and colleagues.”