Greg Smith, the chief creative officer at a Portland advertising agency who was known for his raw energy and passion for life, died on April 20. He was 52.

Mr. Smith, a loving husband and father of two sons, took his own life, said his wife, Emily Smith of Cape Elizabeth.

His obituary, published in Sunday’s newspaper, said “his final act on earth did not come from his heart or lack of ardor for life, but was the result of addiction and mental illness. There’s simply no other way to explain the abrupt end to his beautiful life.”

His wife spoke Friday about his struggle with alcoholism, depression and anxiety.

“He was this remarkably intelligent and big-hearted person with so much in terms of how he lived, and all the people who loved him and he affected in positive ways,” she said. “It’s really hard to understand how he could have done something like this. As warped as it sounds, I think he never felt like he was enough. I think on some crazy level, he thought he was doing us all a favor. I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Mr. Smith had worked for The Via Agency for the past 20 years. He was a driving force behind its decision to work with national consumer brands. He handled accounts for iconic brands such as Welch’s, Klondike, Unilever, Samsung and L.L. Bean.


Leeann Leahy, chief executive officer of The Via Agency, credited Mr. Smith for his role in putting the agency on the national stage. And she remembered him for his tireless dedication to working on brands that had an impact in the community.

“Greg was dynamic and exciting and passionate and inspiring, and just raw energy and creativity. He loved language and words and etymology, and the expression of ideas through language,” Leahy said Friday. “He was never just selling chickens, he was feeding families. He was never just selling clothes, he was getting people outdoors. He was never just selling ice cream, he was bringing lightheartedness into the world. There was always a higher order to the work he did.”

John Coleman, chairman and founder of The Via Agency, reflected on Mr. Smith’s connections with people, including notable clients such as the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and actor Ray Liotta, who was featured in Via’s 1800 Tequila “Enough Said” campaign. He praised Mr. Smith’s pro bono work and said he was brilliant, hilarious and mesmerizing to watch.

“He was a life force,” Coleman said. “He was able to teach the agency the insights and ideas and human truths needed to do really powerful, emotional and dramatic advertising. It was not at all in the DNA of the agency till he showed up.”

David Burfeind, chief strategy officer at Via, spoke of Mr. Smith’s impact on the agency, noting he was fearless in his confidence and had the talent to back it up.

He choked up Friday recalling a sports metaphor they used – “punching above their weight.”


“I thought that was so perfect for what Greg did for us,” Burfeind said. “He took us into this national arena where we probably had no right to be. We were going up against agencies that were not just bigger, but far more established with far more stature, awards and credibility. With Greg we knew we had a chance because we were fighting above our weight. … The emptiness feels so big because he gave us so much.”

Mr. Smith lived in Cape Elizabeth with his wife of 26 years. The couple raised two sons: Nate Smith of Portland and Elias Smith, a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His wife said they had a great life.

“He was an amazing father,” she said. “He taught them how to think, but not what to think. What a great gift that was for them.”

Last week, friends and family struggled to understand why Mr. Smith would take his own life when he had so much to live for. Many people have expressed shock and profound sadness by his sudden and tragic loss.

Emily Smith spoke briefly about her decision to disclose his manner of death in his obituary.

“I put it out there because I think it’s important that people talk about it,” she said. He so knew how to help others, but he could never figure out how to help himself.”

If you’re feeling depressed, in despair or have suicidal thoughts, contact the state of Maine’s 24-hour crisis line 888-568-1112 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255.



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