Model, restaurateur and lifestyle guru Barbara “B.” Smith has died at her Long Island home, her family announced in a statement on social media. She was 70.
Smith died Saturday evening after battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which she was diagnosed with in 2013. She and her husband, Dan Gasby, raised awareness of the disease, and particularly its impacts on the African-American community, following her diagnosis.
“Heaven is shining even brighter now that it is graced with B.’s dazzling and unforgettable smile,” Gasby said in a lengthy Facebook post honoring her life.
Smith wrote three cookbooks, founded three successful restaurants and launched a nationally syndicated television show and a magazine. Her successful home products line was the first from a black woman to be sold at a nationwide retailer when it debuted in 2001 at Bed Bath & Beyond. In 1976, she became the second black model to be on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine, after Joli Jones in 1969.
Some described Smith as a “black Martha Stewart,” a comparison she said she didn’t mind though she believed the two lifestyle mavens were quite different.
“Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years,” she said in a 1997 interview with New York magazine. “We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first.”
In the same interview, Gasby said, “Martha is perfection and Barbara is passion.”
Smith began suffering from memory problems years before her diagnosis. She once froze for several seconds while being interviewed on the “Today Show,” prompting a doctor’s visit that led to her diagnosis. A few months later, she wandered away and was missing in New York City for a day.
In 2018, Gasby revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman while caring for his ailing wife, leading to harsh criticism from some of her fans. He fired back at critics with a Facebook post about the pain of living with Alzheimer’s in the family. “I love my wife but I can’t let her take away my life,” he wrote.
The couple co-authored a book, “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our fight Against Alzheimer’s,” and have partnered with the Brain Health Registry.
Smith was born in Everson, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, where her father was a steelworker. She began her career as a fashion model in Pittsburgh and went on to serve as a spokeswoman for Verizon, Colgate, Palmolive Oxy and McCormick’s Lawry seasonings. She hosted the nationally syndicated television show “B. Smith with Style” for nearly a decade, which aired on NBC stations.
Smith is survived by Gasby, whom she married in 1992, and her stepdaughter Dana Gasby.