B. Smith, Restaurateur And Lifestyle Icon, Dies At 70 Of Early Onset Alzheimer’s

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Barbara Elaine Smith is pictured smiling leaning her chin on both hands

The world is less generous and less welcoming because B. Smith, former model, entertainer and lifestyle doyenne, has left it.

At age 70, Smith succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s, which she had been battling for years. She died Saturday at her Long Island home with family nearby.

Plenty of media have described Smith as the “black Martha Stewart.” And superficially, one could see why: Both women had been models (Smith appeared on the covers of several fashion magazines, the first brown-skinned black model to be featured on Mademoiselle’s cover in the 1970s). Both had a genius for cooking and entertaining. Both eventually built an empire based on their skills (food, decorating, entertaining, home keeping). And when people (mostly white people) called Smith the black Martha, they meant it as a compliment.

Smith saw it as well-intended but shortsighted.

“Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years,” Smith told New York magazine in a 1997 interview. “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.”

True, but Smith made up for that by diving into everything she did with passion.

Born to a steelworker father and a mother who was a part-time housekeeper, Barbara Elaine Smith left her Western Pennsylvania hometown of Scottsdale for a modeling career right after high school.

Barbara became B. as her modeling career took off.

After a successful career with modeling agency Wilhelmina and several lucrative corporate contracts, Smith became interested in restaurants.

She married her second husband, Dan Gasby, in 1992, and together they created an empire that encompassed bestselling cookbooks, the weekly show and a lifestyle magazine that was briefly published by American Express. Eventually there were also housewares, bed linens and even an At Home with B. Smith furniture line.

Smith opened her first eponymous restaurant in Manhattan’s theater district in 1986. Two more B. Smith restaurants followed: one near her weekend home on Long Island and the other in the historic Union Station complex in Washington, D.C.

Smith had been showing signs of forgetfulness for a while. In 2013, after she lost her train of thought while she was doing a cooking demonstration on NBC’s Today, she sought a doctor’s opinion.

The devastating verdict: tests indicated she was in the beginning stages of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She and Gasby went public with the news in 2014. Smith put on a brave face and told the public she intended to live and enjoy life until she couldn’t.

The B. Smith who appeared in a public service announcement the following year was a woman whose wattage had dimmed considerably. Her disease was progressing swiftly. Her famously radiant smile flashed less frequently. Her sparkling eyes looked vacant, she forgot things easily and she once got lost in Manhattan for several hours.

Despite that, she and Gasby did several interviews to educate the public and destigmatize Alzheimer’s. They also wrote a book, Before I Forget, about dealing with the disease. They were determined to try to make a difference, as Alzheimer’s is known to be more prevalent in women and African Americans.

The interviews tapered off, though, as Smith’s condition continued to deteriorate. She lived quietly with Gasby in their weekend home on Long Island Sound. But someone else was living with them and seeking to control the narrative.

In 2018 Gasby confirmed the rumors: He had a girlfriend, Alex Lerner, and together they were caring for Smith. Last year, on Today, Gasby explained to friend Al Roker how painful it was to watch Smith fade.

You meet and fall in love with someone, he explained, “(and they are) the perfect person for you, and you watch them slowly dissolve, and you go down with them …”

Some people understood and sympathized. Others, like The View‘s Sunny Hostin (who had helped care for a grandmother with Alzheimer’s) were appalled.

“I find it very disrespectful that he is with his wife and disrespecting her by being with his girlfriend in their home,” an emotional Hostin told her co-hosts.

Gasby has heard his critics, and it bothers him, but he feels strongly that his life counts, too.

“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” he told The Washington Post last year, but not in till death do you part. If the person you love, he said, is no longer mentally or emotionally present, he doesn’t believe “that you should sit there and watch your life shrivel up …” (He visited The View to face Hostin and explain his side of the story.

Continue on to NPR to read the complete article.

Pioneering black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson dies

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Pioneering black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson pictured with the stars of Hidden Figures

NASA: Katherine Johnson, a mathematician on early space missions who was portrayed in film “Hidden Figures,” has died.

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits for NASA’s early space missions and was later portrayed in the 2016 hit film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, has died. She was 101.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter that she died Monday morning. No cause was given.

Bridenstine tweeted that the NASA family “will never forget Katherine Johnson’s courage and the milestones we could not have reached without her. Her story and her grace continue to inspire the world.”

Johnson was one of the “computers” who solved equations by hand during NASA’s early years and those of its precursor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Johnson and other black women initially worked in a racially segregated computing unit in Hampton, Virginia, that wasn’t officially dissolved until NACA became NASA in 1958. Signs had dictated which bathrooms the women could use.

Johnson focused on airplanes and other research at first. But her work at NASA’s Langley Research Center eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.

“Our office computed all the (rocket) trajectories,” Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012. “You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.”

In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space. The next year, she manually verified the calculations of a nascent NASA computer, an IBM 7090, which plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

“Get the girl to check the numbers,” a computer-skeptical Glenn had insisted in the days before the launch.

“Katherine organized herself immediately at her desk, growing phone-book-thick stacks of data sheets a number at a time, blocking out everything except the labyrinth of trajectory equations,” Margot Lee Shetterly wrote in her 2016 book “Hidden Figures,” on which the film is based.

“It took a day and a half of watching the tiny digits pile up: eye-numbing, disorienting work,” Shetterly wrote.

Shetterly told The Associated Press on Monday that Johnson was “exceptional in every way.”

“The wonderful gift that Katherine Johnson gave us is that her story shined a light on the stories of so many other people,” Shetterly said. “She gave us a new way to look at black history, women’s history and American history.”

Shetterly noted that Johnson died during Black History Month and a few days after the anniversary of Glenn’s orbits of the earth on Feb. 20, 1962, for which she played an important role.

Continue on to WTOP to read the complete article.