Wilmette, Community

In Tribute: Ned Smith leaves lasting legacy in Wilmette and beyond

“Then the Warrior thanks his traveling companions, takes a deep breath and continues on, laden with memories of an unforgettable journey.”

Paulo Coelho’s words appeared in “Warrior of the Light,” a favorite book of Wilmette resident Ned Smith, and they were included in a notice of Smith’s death written by his wife, Erin, for the website Caring Bridge.

Edward “Ned” Smith died on Saturday, Sept. 25, at the age of 40 after a three-year “journey” with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, it read in his obituary.

Individuals from numerous communities impacted by Smith will unite to celebrate his life with a reception from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3, at The Kellogg Global Hub at 2211 Campus Drive on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, and a service at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, at the Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road, also on the NU campus. 

The Smith family — (clockwise from left) Eliza, Finnegan, Erin, Ned, Beckett, Cecily and the family dog, Tessa

With his wife of 17 years, Erin, Smith was the leader of what was affectionately known to friends and family as the Smith 6, which included their children: Finnegan, 13, Beckett, 11, Eliza, 9, and Cecily, 6.

The family moved to Wilmette in 2013 when Smith was named an associate professor of sociology and management and organizations with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

According to his obituary published with Donnellan Funeral Services, he “opened the field of sociology to new questions about human psychology, cognition, and creativity. He believed that vision drives leadership, that information drives organizations, and that meaningful connections — not fate or luck — drive our life paths.”

Smith was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2018. In the ensuing years, the Smiths helped co-found Pickles Group, a Wilmette nonprofit dedicated to supporting children who have a parent with cancer.

The group launched this year.

“Ned touched the lives of the people around him through his brilliant research and teaching, his strength of character and spirit, and his loving and caring nature,” Pickles Executive Director Cassy Horton wrote in a post on Picklesgroup.com. “We are beyond grateful for his founding contributions to Pickles Group, an organization that wouldn’t exist without Ned, his wife Erin, and their incredible kids.

“Ned’s friends, family, and community will miss him deeply. We are all better off because of the precious time we spent with him.”

Smith spent his last few days in hospice care and died on Sept. 25 with his wife by his side.

On Sunday, Sept. 26, Wilmette residents gathered at Vattman Park for a tribute to Smith and in support of the Smith family. They left candles in the shape of a heart around a tree.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Smith’s honor may be made to the Pickles Group, www.picklesgroup.org. To make a gift, contact Peter Lee at chicago@summittrail.com.

A native of Ohio, Ned Smith came to Wilmette in 2013 after receiving a professor job at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Smith grew up in Upper Arlington, Ohio, where he met Erin when the two were teenagers. He attended Yale University, receiving degrees in East Asian studies (Chinese language and literature) and political science. He advanced to the University of Chicago, from which he earned a phD in economic sociology and organizational behavior. He taught at the University of Michigan before coming to the North Shore.

“World-class professor, mentor, and writer, Ned was beloved by students at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, as well as thinkers across the business landscape, whom he taught how networks work — in theory, practice, and life,” his obituary reads.

Most important to Smith, according to the obituary, was family life, which led him to assume such informal titles as “master crepe maker, homework helper, fishing extraordinaire, soccer coach, family adventure seeker, rib roaster, rock climber, singing partner, community builder, and Kenilworth Union Church member.

Smith is survived by his wife and children; parents Nancy and Eric Smith, of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; sister Jordan (Mike) Bain; brother Ian (Laurie) Smith; nieces and nephews; cousins; and neighbors, lacrosse buddies and all whose network he’s touched.


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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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