Remembering Ernest ‘Smokey’ Smith.
The last surviving Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross. Someone I will never forget. He smiles at me every day in my office. Here’s how the ‘best event of my entire career’ happened…
It was Tuesday, August 09, 2005 and the Canadian Army called. They needed an event planner to help them plan a special celebration. “No problem” I said. “When would you like to meet”? They said in two hours. Yikes, I thought. What’s the big hurry?
Well it turned out that Ernest “Smokey” Smith had passed away on August 3, 2005 and the government had held a ceremony in Ottawa celebrating his life. It was extremely well attended. A high-ranking official in the Canadian Army asked the Ottawa troops what plans the Vancouver division had for their celebration as Vancouver was Smokey’s home city. Gulp! Vancouver said they had no plans at all.
And then they called Bright Ideas to the rescue.
So, it’s Tuesday at noon when we receive the call. Two hours later I am on my way to the Seaforth Armoury, located on Burrard Street in Vancouver, to get details of this hoped-for celebration. If I had known then what I know now, I would have taken two Valium tablets before the meeting. What I was about to be told blew my mind!
I walked into the boardroom to find a dozen plus military personnel, dressed in khakis standing upon my arrival. I felt like the Queen! Pads of blue lined white paper and blue Bic pens strategically placed exactly in the same position on each pad conveyed that they were on a serious mission. They were waiting for their marching orders…FROM ME! Little did I know what I was in for – honestly – I was side swiped!
We started to discuss the details with the General and as he continued to talk & talk, the room began to sway. I thought I would pass out! The events he was describing would take months to plan. We had a mere 36 hours. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!
I must have said yes to the job somewhere in my dazed state and they must have agreed to hire me because the next thing I knew, I had agreed to meet with them on Wednesday morning with my full event outline including Risk Assessment and Evacuation Plan. Are you kidding? I had just agreed to produce a Vigil for over 5,000 people, a funeral in which 250,000 people were expected to attend and a full catered reception for 1,200 guests. All of it had to be in place by 8:00am Thursday. Was I nuts?!
On the way back to my office I called my staff and told them that they needed to work late and that the biggest event of their entire career was before them. I told them to put on their running shoes because for the next 36 hours we were running an event marathon! And we did.
I decided the best way to tackle this impossible task was to put each staff in charge of a significant sector of the event. One person was in charge of all the Event Personnel we needed, which was dozens! Another person was in charge of Event Vendors, which would turn out to be the backbone of the event. Me – I was in charge of the entire Vancouver division of the Canadian Armed Forces. Yikes!
As we started to call all of our major suppliers and ask them for support, everyone couldn’t believe that I was accepting this impossible task. Most of them said that I was crazy but they were there for me – day and night. And we indeed all worked around the clock.
David Hay at Levy Show Productions really went to bat for us. We needed 20,000 feet of blue carpet, 800 feet of black drape and over 75 stanchions and red rope. He scoured the entire city renting each and every red rope and stanchion that was available. It was insane. Thanks to him and many other vendors, the event was flawless and smooth. I was so proud.
We worked all through Tuesday and Wednesday, grabbing catnaps when we could. Time was so precious, we couldn’t afford to sleep! I was shocked that we were still functioning with no sleep at the actual event, but honestly we were working on adrenaline.
It would take pages and pages to share the details of what we did to produce three amazing events flawlessly within 36 hours. So, I have decided to write a separate book about the “Smokey Smith” Adventure. There are dozens of important lessons, tips to share, and memories to relive. I want to give this event the respect and dedication it deserves. I can’t wait to begin writing it!
Smokey Smith was a heroic military war veteran. His passing helped make me the multi-award winning event producer that I am today. For that I am eternally grateful. Below is an excerpt from our reference letter from the National Defense Headquarters. To read more click here.
Below is an excerpt from the Letter of Reference from the Canadian Department of National Defense.
“The outstanding support provided by you and your staff was instrumental to the overall success of the event. The transformation of the Seaforth Armoury for the vigil as well as the planning and coordination of the reception was extremely well orchestrated. Your assistance enabled Canada to honor Sergeant Smith, and all of our veterans, with a tribute characterized by grace, honor and dignity.”
R.J. Hillier – General
If you have a very challenging, complicated event that you need support with, contact Bright Ideas today.
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