“It easily affected thousands.” Tributes are pouring in for a longtime Norwalk band manager who was killed in a plane crash

“It easily affected thousands.”  Tributes are pouring in for a longtime Norwalk band manager who was killed in a plane crash

It’s rare for one person to touch an entire community, but almost everyone in Norwalk has a Jeff Smith story. Condolences poured in on social media as news spread that the beloved former band manager died Thursday in a car accident in New Hampshire, where he lived.

“He easily impacted thousands of students and thousands of parents,” said Chris Rivera, current Norwalk High School band director, who took over the program when Smith retired in 2010.

Smith began his music education career working at Bonos Ridge Middle School for two years, then spent five years at Bryn McMahon High School. In 1982, Smith took over the music department at Norwalk High School as band director, where his style can be classified as “tough love.”

“Jeff was the kind of guy you either loved or hated at first. But after a while, those who didn’t like him at first understood why he was the way he was, and they started to like him, too,” Rivera told News 12.

“He was very much like a military type but he was a very loving man behind it,” explained Craig Bergamo, a Norwalk High School graduate.

Smith ran a tight ship, instilling this principle in his students: “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. Being late is unacceptable,” Bergamo recalls, “and I live by that saying today.”

News 12 talked about some of Smith’s workouts over the years, including one that involved a lot of push-ups and running.

“My job is to make them better citizens. If they’re right, I applaud them, and if they’re wrong, I tell them they’re wrong,” Smith told News Channel 12 in 2002. “You can’t let them fail. “You have to know that they will succeed by repeating it, reinforcing it and repeating it.”

But Smith was more than just a teacher. He was a friend, mentor and father to generations of teenagers even after they graduated.

“He went to funerals. He went to weddings. He spoke at weddings. He spoke at funerals. He was always there for his students,” said Ron Cici, Brien McMahon High School band director, who continued to speak to Smith weekly, even after he retired. And his family.”

Secchi was a graduate of the “Jeff Smith School” as a student at Norwalk High School and later as a music teacher who studied under Smith.

“I modeled my career after him,” Cici said.

Rivera echoed that. He was one of Smith’s students as well.

“I wouldn’t be here today without him,” Rivera told News 12. “Jeff made me the teacher I am, and I’m proud to say that everything I do and accomplish now is a direct reflection of what he taught me.” ”

But Smith’s most important lessons had nothing to do with hitting the right notes.

“He created a family concept that was actually his strongest accomplishment I think throughout his career — better than all the awards and banners because he made every student feel welcome,” Riveras said. “Some of the children didn’t have family at home; They have become family. They had no food. He brought them food. They didn’t have a trip somewhere; He was going to give them a ride.

Bergamo knows this firsthand. He found himself living in a Norwalk shelter when he was 17 after his parents died.

“I got my first mobile phone because of him. I got my first bank account. He set it up and went to the bank with me, and he’s always been there for me over the years. He came to my police academy graduation – he’s just a great guy.”

He called Smith “selfless” and said he designed his life to be because of what Smith did for him as a child. “The man I am today gives back and wants to help.”

This is one way Smith’s teachings will continue in and out of the classroom.

“We’re passing on all this love and knowledge of music to the next generation,” Cici told News 12.

Smith leaves behind a wife, three sons and a daughter. His family shared a message about his death on social media: “Jeff cherished his family and the band family, was devoted to his students and celebrated each of your accomplishments every day. In difficult times, Jeff would ask you to keep your shoulders back, chin up and eyes up with pride. Please always remember that and know that He loved you all.

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