Maria Grabowska Smith was born in Ingolstadt Germany of Polish parents. Her father opposed Hitler and was arrested and sent to Matthausen concentration camp in Poland. He survived (he was visited by priests at the request of his Nazi brothers who saw to it that he had food) but suffered physical wounds that never healed. After the war he met and nursed a sick younger woman back to health; Sophia Gonerra (brought to Germany as slave labor) would become Maria’s mother. Unbeknownst to anyone she unfortunately was a carrier for the genetic disease: Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) an adult form of ALD that primarily affects the spinal cord, so is usually characterized by pain, weakness and stiffness in the legs, and unfortunately Maria then became a carrier. Her brother Stan would later die with it.
At ten her father died of lung cancer and she was sent to boarding school in England hosted by the Ockenden Venture…Haselmere (mostly for Polish childern – usually – orphans); she was close to her father (he was understandably angry at the Germans; refused to speak German in the home so she now spoke Polish and German) and she was miserable having been sent away; still she excelled in cross country and field hockey and learned English.
When she was old enough to leave she joined her sister Janina who had secured a job in Munich Germany working for the American European Exchange System (EES) That’s where I met her; she was sixteen years old and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Catty-corner to EES was the 66th MI HQ in the McGraw Kaserne where I was stationed as a 2nd Lieutenant. I tried one day to give her a ride in my Hatchback red 67’Mustang…she refused and I set out to learn all I could about this girl. I knew she sat with a click of girls at lunch. So one day I joined them and paid attention to every girl there but her. It became a routine and finally the ice was broken.
When I returned to the States, following an Army RIF (reduction in force) I sent an engagement ring tied to a pair of Addidas running shoes and asked her to marry me over the phone. She said yes. When she arrived she even cared for my sick mother. I didn’t want to stay in the Army. I preferred to work with my father in the bicycle business. In 1976 my father and I started Emory Mfg., Co. and accquired the machines and tooling to make industrial bicycles that later turned into the first cruiser bikes as outlined in another earlier post.
Maria was with me every step of the way. She and my daughter Sophia (Soshia) were the assembly team and would often stay pass midnight as our sales began to soar. Maria was a fantastic worker and fastidious; nothing second rate ever got by her. One reason we enjoy our reputation for quality today is directly because of her attention to detail and perfection and Soshia was just like her.
She suffered the loss of a five year old son; Wolfram (Wolffie AMD) and our sixteen year old son Clayton III and thirteen year old Soshia in a car wreck. Still, to her credit she never ever stopped supporting me and our commitment to the bicycles we built together. After losing the two teens we had a tough time. We stayed together and rebuilt our family by having two more boys: Clayton IV and Seabrook.
Then about twenty years ago the effects of AMN began to manifest itself. No one could say what the malady was and in fact until Clayton IV was diagnosed, after a year, we had no idea what was causing his problems or hers. All through Clayton’s illness and bone transplant she never left his side. She and Seabrook (who was also his bone marrow donor at Johns Hopkins) became caregivers even as Clayton slowly deteriorated and was no better off in the end than a late stage ALS victim. Maria and Seabrook stayed by his side until he died.
Julia and I had five kids, now ranging from thirteen down to two, and the two year old is a little girl who Maria treated (like all the rest) as her own but C.C. was special, maybe she thought back on our Sophia.
Last Friday I was with her at Brooks Rehab around 4:30. She ended up there after a procedure to relieve AMN’s intense spinal back pain had led to a staph infection and finally surgery, but she was on the mend and we were assured that after three months of antibiotics she would be fine. Because of Covid I could only stay an hour. But she talked to C.C. and seabrook on the phone. As usual I told her how much I loved her and that Seabrook would be by on Saturday.
That night we got the terrible news that something had happened and we rushed over to Memorial Hospital. A blood clot had moved from her lung and was blocking her heart. It had stopped twice and at 11:30 it stopped for the final time and my partner of fiftyone years was gone just like that.
We never expected this to happen. She didn’t suffer in her last hours which is more than can be said for the stongest woman I ever knew; one who would eskew drugs even through spinal pain that would have killed a horse.
More than a friend and companion we were partners; the business was actually in her name.
The purpose of this missive is to make clear that despite this enormous loss (which will set us back) we will respect her memory and go forward as quickly as we can to bring our cycles to market in a timely fashion. It makes me sad to think that after all the pain and all the hard tough times; she will not be here to see the final phase of our life’s work; to bring bicycle manufacturing back to the USA. She was such a patriot; “buy American.” She wanted to vote in person. Happily, I secured a ballot and her vote is in!
Thank you for your support and understanding. Following her wishes services will be private, but of course, we will support, through our sales of Emory product, donations to the Leukodstrophy Foundation in her and Clayton IV’s name.
Till next time…a better time…C2