If you haven’t already heard, I have some sad news to share. A great man of God is now–to use the apostle Paul’s words–”absent from the body and present with the Lord.” Gary Smalley died on Sunday, March 6th. Here’s a statement put out by his family yesterday:
It is with heavy hearts that we announce Dr Gary Smalley, at age 75, graduated to heaven last night. The family gathered and surrounded him, his loving wife Norma kissed his forehead gently and sang to him. This beautiful transition came to an end as these words were spoke over him “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (Numbers 6:24-25)
Gary was a bestselling author or co-author of over 60 books (6 million in print), a renowned marriage and relationship expert, and had been a sought-after speaker for the past 4 decades. He appeared regularly on national TV programs including Fox and Friends, Oprah and the Today show. He appeared on Focus on the Family’s national radio program over 50 times. Gary helped hundreds of thousands of couples learn the secrets of God’s idea for marriage through his books, videos and conferences.
My Experience with Gary
Some of you might know, I had the privilege of co-authoring 4 novels with Gary, called The Restoration series, between 2011-2014. Our relationship began with a phone call from my editor. She sounded pretty excited as she explained they had been interacting with Gary Smalley and his team for the last month or so. He had decided to work on another collaborative fiction project, similar to the books he had done with Karen Kingsbury ten years earlier (the Redemption Series based on the Baxter family).
At the time, Gary was still traveling a lot, so he gave his team an assignment to find a fiction author he could work with, whose writing had a similar emotional impact as Karen’s. That began a process of evaluating a sizable number of authors from different publishing houses. After Gary and I had become friends, his executive secretary shared with me a little of the process that led up to Gary’s decision to work with me.
She said the box that came from my publisher contained books from a number of authors, but I was the only male author in the bunch. She smiled as she told me (somewhat apologetically), “I decided to read your books last.” After all, Karen Kingsbury is a woman, and she connects with women very well. Women make up the majority of the fiction reading audience. But after reading a few chapters of each of the books in the box, she set them aside. They were nice but not what Gary was looking for.
Finally, only my books were left.
She started to read my first novel, The Unfinished Gift, and said she couldn’t stop reading it. She even rearranged her schedule around it and cried at the end. She picked up the second book, The Homecoming, and the same thing happened. She felt certain Gary would want to see these books, so she handed them to him as he headed out the door for his next trip. A few days later, after reading the novels, Gary called her back through tears to say, “Call Revell, I want to work with Dan.”
We worked closely together over the next 3 years writing the spiritual saga of the Anderson family (The Dance, The Promise, The Desire and The Legacy). After every chapter or two, I’d send them to Gary. He always read them right away and would get right back to me with any suggestions or encouragement. Which reminds me…he was always SO encouraging. In fact, he was a breeze to work with.
That was especially one of the great blessings of this chapter in my writing life. Getting to know Gary better. He was the real deal. Sometimes, disillusionment sets in the closer you get to someone famous. For me, the opposite was true. My respect for Gary grew stronger, the more time I spent with him and his family. Gary loved God, loved life, loved people and especially loved his wife of 52 years, Norma, and his family. And man, did he love his grandkids.
In fact Gary’s lasting legacy, probably to an even greater extent, is not the millions of books and marriage videos he has left for us, it is the treasure of his family. All 3 of Gary and Norma’s adult children and their spouses, are making a significant impact as they follow in their father’s footsteps championing the cause of Christain marriage and family life.
I’d like to end my tribute to Gary sharing these words I read on the Focus on the Family blog last night, from his son, Greg speaking about his Dad: “He was passionately committed to living out the greatest commandment: to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as himself. He built his ministry on the concept of honor—treating others as priceless treasures. His favorite verse was Romans 12:10, ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor’ (ESV). What I loved best is that who my dad was up on stage was exactly who he was at home. He spent his life honoring his wife and family and helping others have an intimate relationship with the Lord and a thriving marriage and family.”
That was certainly my experience. My life is richer for having gotten the chance to work with and become friends with Gary Smalley. This world is a richer place for the time he spent here.