Bench at Six Flags Over Georgia dedicated in W. Cleveland Smith’s memory

June 18, 2012

Cleveland Smith’s family gathered at The Riverview Carousel for the bench dedication with the Six Flags family June 16, 2012, the day Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated 45 years. View more photos by clicking here.

Dad could have told us that The Riverview Carousel at Six Flags Over Georgia is special because it’s one of only three five-across carousels still in existence. He kept up with things like that. The carousel, made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, was built in 1908 and was at Riverview Park in Chicago until that park closed. It has been located at Six Flags Over Georgia since the early 1970s, where the hand-carved horses are in constant rotation for refurbishing, three or four per year. The carousel is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The carousel is special, and it’s in a special park. Dad was one of the earliest general managers of Six Flags Over Georgia. Today at the helm is Melinda Ashcraft, one of Dad’s favorite people. She, too, was working at Six Flags Over Georgia the day it opened 45 years ago. She was assigned to Jean Ribaut’s Adventure riverboat ride. Dad had worked on the similar La Salle’s River Adventure at Six Flags Over Texas.

Physically The Riverview Carousel is located near the center of the park, a bit of a hike up hill. Tall trees are all around. Peek through the branches and you can see roller coaster tracks, antique cars, a children’s ride shaped like hot air balloons. Listen and you hear screams and laughter and the noises of the midway games below. Stand still and feel a breeze.

We included Dad’s beloved Six Flags jacket for the ceremony.

It is perhaps the most peaceful, beautiful spot at Six Flags Over Georgia — maybe at any amusement park anywhere. And that’s where the Cleveland Smith Memorial Bench is now located.

So many of you gave donations to make this customized bench a possibility. Thank you. It is a beautiful bench and should last for decades. It’s the only bench located at the carousel, amid several rocking chairs. We think it will get lots of use. The medallion in the center of the bench says, “Life has its ups and downs. Enjoy the ride” — something Dad may well have said but certainly would agree with — and “W. Cleveland Smith, 1941-2011.”

Dad’s family (pictured above) and his Six Flags family came together on June 16, 2012 for a bench dedication service, on the very day that Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated its 45th anniversary. The park came to life and the front gates opened as we wrapped up a brunch (catered, with love, by Wilma Ashcraft) and rode the carousel with Dad. Yes, “with Dad.” I wasn’t the only one who felt his presence at The Riverview Carousel.

Watch the dedication ceremony in this 19 1/2-minute video.

View more pictures from the dedication ceremony.

Hear what Jeff Foxworthy had to say in this 9-minute video.


Photos from the bench dedication ceremony at Six Flags Over Georgia

June 18, 2012

I put a bunch of photos from the event into a slideshow. Click here if you’d like to look at them.


April 3, 1941 to Sept. 4, 2011, a life well lived

September 4, 2011

Dallas Morning News features my Dad in news obituary

September 4, 2011

I always thought my Dad was special. But I knew that, as his daughter, I was liable to be somewhat biased. Well, it turns out my Dad WAS pretty special. The Dallas Morning News decided to write a news obituary about his passing. Obit writer Joe Simnacher interviewed me Wednesday morning, and late Wednesday night his article went live on It contains a mistake. The service takes place Sept. 17 (not the 10th) at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home, Dallas.

Read the Dallas Morning News article.

In memory of W. Cleveland Smith, Jr.

September 4, 2011

W. Cleveland Smith, Jr., circa 1980, at State Fair of Texas.

Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr., 70 died peacefully holding hands with his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2011. Although fading into the grip of dementia the last three years, he lived a full and happy life.

Cleveland ran amusement parks for a living and was instrumental in the development of Six Flags over Texas. Cleve started with Six Flags Over Texas the first day it opened in 1961 as a ride operator, then ride supervisor.

In 1964 he became the New York World’s Fair General Manager for Rides. During 1966 to 1969 Cleveland was the General Manager and then promoted to Operations Manager for Six Flags Over Georgia.

In 1969 Cleveland was promoted to Executive Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of Six Flags Inc. In 1971 W. Cleveland Smith & Associates was formed which later became Fun Corporation of America. Cleveland also was the Vice President and member of the Board of Directors with Wynne Enterprises, Inc., owned by Angus G. Wynne Jr., the founder of Six Flags, from 1972 to 1982. Over the decades, one of his best friends and mentors was Luther D. Clark.

Cleveland also held management roles at Lion Country Safari and Old Chicago.

In 1982 Cleveland became the General Manager for the Entertainment Area at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. From 1984 to 1989, he was the President of the State Fair of Texas Midway games, novelties and concessions.

As Vice President of Overseas Development for Wet ‘n Wild, Cleveland worked closely with George Millay, the founder of Sea World and Wet’n Wild.

He traveled extensively for work and pleasure, visiting Brazil, Japan, Alaska, Peru, Ecuador & Australia.

In his earlier years, Cleve worked on oil rigs, and as an assistant purchasing agent for Neiman-Marcus wherein he was bonded to drive to homes to deliver clothes, jewelry, shoes for the buyer’s discretion.

Cleve was born in Jacksboro in 1941 because his father, Warner Cleveland Smith insisted on seeing the birth and no hospital in Dallas at that time would allow that. His mother Emma Jean (Powell) Smith was agreeable to that game plan. Growing up in Dallas, Cleveland finished high school in Dallas and studied business administration at the University of Texas Arlington.

He is survived by:

his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith of Plano, Texas;

daughter, April Amber Suriani of Manlius, NY, son-in-law Sammy Suriani, grandsons Nicholas Cleveland and Benjamin Texas and granddaughter Sabrina Shawn;

son,  Trey (Warner Cleveland Smith, III) Smith of Charlotte, NC; daughter-in-law Michelle Smith, grandson Hunter Cleveland and granddaughters Emily Xiangyi, Katherine Mei and Caroline Michelle;

sister, Beverly Hendrickson of Terrell; and several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Also family to Cleveland were his canine children, Cuervo who died last year, and Tag.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service honoring Cleveland will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home. On Sept. 18 we will honor Cleveland’s caregivers at Silverado Senior Living of Plano.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr. Memorial Bench Fund, through Legacy Texas Bank Plano, 1573 Alma Dr. Plano, Texas 75075. Memorial benches are being created to place near the carousels in the amusement parks that were dear to Cleveland and those innovators of the amusement industry with whom he worked.

About the service at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home.

Watch video scrapbook of Cleveland’s life.

Pre-mourning for the father dementia stole

February 4, 2011

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and it finally dawned on me why: I’m in mourning. Or, at least anticipatory mourning. For the past several weeks, everything reminds me of my Dad.

I slice cantaloupe, and I remember how he favored melons.  I remember the stories he told of an illicit watermelon patch growing up, one that he tossed seeds into, never tended, but that grew prize-worthy melons every summer growing up in Texas.  Dad loved his watermelon, but also cantaloupes and honeydews.

I glance at the sky in the morning, in spectacular pink, and I remember the “red sky in morning, sailors take warning” ditty Dad planted in our brains as children. I know the day holds a storm. And of course that gets me thinking about watching thunderstorms from the porch, and counting seconds between lightning strikes and thunder booms with my Dad.

I pour wiper fluid into my car, and I remember it was Dad who taught me what I know about cars. He made me change a tire, so I’d know how to in an emergency. He taught me driving; we practiced donuts in shopping mall parking lots. That memory leads to stories he shared of his youth – sanitized, no doubt – about racing around in Corvettes with his sister’s husband.

When I’m particularly melancholy, I look at my children and see my Dad. I hear the words he spoke when each was born. I see him caring for them, joking with them, and those visions become of him caring for me, joking with me.

All of this is pleasant enough. My memories are all good, except… Each of my recollections ends with a jolt: the sweet memory, then the bitter reality. Dad is not gone yet. Frontotemporal dementia stole him but has not yet released him to heaven.

So I’m mourning, but not for his death. I’m mourning for his loss of life.

Sometimes I imagine what I will feel when my father’s soul leaves this earth. I wonder if I will get a phone call, or if I will just know. I wonder if, once he’s gone, my memories will lose their bitter aftertaste. I wonder, without the anticipation, will mourning be able to bring comfort?

Finally — attention focuses on how money woes can signal dementia

October 31, 2010

A story on page one of today’s New York Times explains that money woes can be an early clue to Alzheimer’s. It tells the stories of individuals who stopped paying bills, lost track of bank accounts and lost their money in what turned out to be the early stages of dementia. It also explains how legal, financial and psychological leaders are grappling with how to determine a person’s decision making capacity.

Looking back, I see that my Dad’s demise likely started with making poor financial decisions. He had been a keen business professional in the amusement industry when suddenly he began promoting a multi-level marketing company. I had never questioned my Dad’s judgment before; instead, I questioned my own skepticism. And when things didn’t pan out for him, I found flaws in the company, the market, the economy. Dad wasn’t in his right mind then. We didn’t know it, and he didn’t know it — but now I wonder if, somehow, that multi-level marketing company did…

As Dad degenerated,  it turns out, he kept making donations to some of his favorite charities. Of course, as soon as he wrote one check, he would forget, and when the next request for money came, he’d write another. Even after his wife notified the charities about Dad’s condition, the groups continued to keep him on their mailing lists. I don’t want to believe they preyed upon him, but that’s what it looks like. Think about it: If you are in charge of fundraising, and you are unscrupulous, elderly people who are becoming forgetful can be goldmines.

So, I’m glad that the Alzheimer’s Association and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the New York Times says, met recently “to formulate guidelines on how to deal with clients who have trouble remembering and reasoning, a problem that is not new but is increasing as the population ages.” It’s a dementia issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Read The New York Times story, by Gina Kolata.