Linda Smith, champion philanthropist and fundraiser for Nevada’s largest organization for people with disabilities, Opportunity Village, describes her impressive life story in this captivating memoir.
Overcoming an abusive childhood with a violent, alcoholic father to become a Las Vegas performer and glamorous model as the face of Diet Pepsi, Smith’s world drastically shifts with the early birth (nearly inside a plane headed to Toronto) of Christopher, a child with Down syndrome. Doctors tell Smith and her husband, musician Glenn Smith, that Christopher wasn’t expected to survive. “This is a blessing,” they add. “You should forget about him and concentrate on having another baby.” Instead, with indefatigable drive, Linda and Glenn face the challenges of raising Christopher, and Linda begins advocating for disabled rights.
Described as her “magical boy, his extra chromosome bringing love,” Christopher, (verbally limited and autistic) is a joy, but discrimination abounds: Schools and families aren’t accepting. Foreign-born with a “retarded” status, he’s unable to become a legal permanent US resident. Linda engages a powerful lobby (with Hubert Humphrey and others) to change outdated immigration laws, gaining citizenship for Christopher and others like him.
Capitalizing on her Las Vegas connections (Glenn performed with Wayne Newton), Smith begins to create impressive fundraising events. Dauntless, she approaches famous hotel owners, corporations, sports teams, and philanthropists and gathers a line-up of Vegas stars, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Celine Dion to produce “The Concert of Love.” This event, along with numerous galas, have raised millions for “disability freedom” and garnered her awards as a champion of the disabled.
Smith’s well-written, moving, and energetic description of the social injustices, lack of understanding, and physical and emotional demands of raising Christopher are eye-opening, offering a realistic portrait of the world of the disabled in the ‘70s and beyond. Her tenacity is infectious. People seeking to learn more about self-advocacy, nonprofits, and fundraising—or simply share in Christopher’s stirring story— will find inspiration in this powerful book.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.