By Ken Gillespie
Upon entering Harry Smith’s Ponte Vedra Beach house, he points to a large screen television. Sprouting behind it is an array of antennae: long vintage rabbit ears topped by a bunch of aluminum shards pointing north. Thanks to this assembly, he and wife Sondra enjoy free over-the-air access to more than 30 channels. No Netflix, no HBO, no cable bill. Further, they have no internet service, thus no email capability. They don’t own a computer or a smartphone; he relies on a dated flip-top phone.
Smith proudly rebels against what he sees as a relentless march of “always-on” electronic connectivity, pushed by tech giants who continually sell ever costly upgrades. Tired of having to keep up with the latest tech, he’s willing to accept trade-offs such as people complaining that he can be hard to reach. Bottom line benefits for him include spending less money, minimizing wasteful intrusions into his day, and generally being more in control of his time.
Considering Smith’s early years, formal education, and career, one would not expect a turning away from today’s electronic eye candy. A boyhood hobby was to assemble radios from kits. In third grade, as a recognized numbers whiz, teachers asked him to handle class milk money and postal savings. At university, on scholarship, he majored in math and physics, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. While employed by the Bell Telephone system he was a budgeting and statistics guru using the latest computers.
Q: You retired from the Bell System at age 52, more than 23 years ago.
A: I spent 30 years in the telephone industry. Most everyone my age can recall Bell’s break up into eight separate companies. I left their corporate headquarters in NYC and cycled through a series of jobs at different entities over the years. Reorganizations continued and I was ultimately offered an early retirement buyout. I bought my first Florida house in the 1980s after only a one day search. Sondra and I now divide our time between here and our old Pittsburgh neighborhood where we still have emotional ties.
Q: You and Sondra have a unique personal history together.
A: We both grew up in the Pittsburgh area and attended Westminster College where it was love at first sight. We dated through graduation at which time I wanted to spread my wings and see the world. She preferred to stay put. With much sorrow and angst we parted. We each went on with our lives and eventually married others. My first relationship lasted 25 years and produced three children. As life happens, I divorced. A few years later when I attended one of the school’s reunions, who did I come across but Sondra. She had also ended her marriage. Voila! We re-fell in love and have been together for the past 23 years. I’d say it was destiny.
Q: You both experienced a horrendous car accident a few years back.
A: Life sometimes throws curves. A head-on crash in Pittsburgh caused both of us to slam into the windshield. Sondra cracked her neck, her sternum, and a number of ribs. My neck also cracked. Repairing our bodies has taken years. The reality is that lingering effects still persist. Intellectually I’m not what I used to be, a real frustration for a math and numbers guy. While we try to do nightly “Jeopardy,” the answers don’t come as quickly. Playing the game of Bridge together has proven to be good therapy.
Q: What lies ahead?
A: We take one day at a time. Keeping in shape on the treadmill is a daily must. Serving as vice president of our small community’s homeowners association keeps me involved. Spending time with my three children and their families is important. And travel has always held our interest. Westminster College is sponsoring a European tour next year and we’re looking forward to linking up with friends. A highlight will be attending the Ommeragau passion play.
Photo courtesy Ken Gillespie