PINELLAS PARK — Forty years ago, Lyle Smith and his wife, Nan, spearheaded a fundraising effort to bring a new dialysis machine to Tampa General Hospital.
They collected more than half of the 600,000 coupons required by food giant General Mills, which then wrote a check for the machine.
"I was 21 years old then, and had never met anyone with more enthusiasm to help people than Lyle and Nan," longtime WFLA DJ Tedd Webb, who helped with the effort, wrote in an e-mail to the Times.
Little did Mr. Smith know that the very technology he brought to others would someday extend his own life.
"We were doing it to help other people," said his wife, Nan Smith. "You never know, do you?"
Mr. Smith, a 30-year employee of the city of Pinellas Park, died July 21, at Woodside Hospice. He was 77.
For many years, Mr. Smith was a police officer. He always obeyed the rules and lived clean. He joined the North Caldwell, N.J., police force in 1957. The next year he married Nan Cowley, who like him did not drink or smoke. They moved to Pinellas Park in 1968, where Mr. Smith had lined up a job as a patrolman.
In 1970, Mr. Smith learned of an effort by Tampa police officers to help kidney patients. The officers had worked out a deal with General Mills.
All they needed to do was come up with 600,000 Betty Crocker coupons — little slips of paper announcing discounts on everything from aspirin to silverware to makeup.
The stakes meant something. Then, as now, dialysis meant the difference between life and death. But in 1970, there were not enough machines to go around.
The Smiths jumped in, bringing Pinellas County into the drive. They left boxes at grocery stores and banks asking for coupons. Local radio stations got into the act, including Webb, then a DJ for WFSO radio.
The Smiths turned their Pinellas Park home into a Betty Crocker coupon warehouse. They spent hours counting coupons at the dining room table, then packing them into boxes to send to General Mills.
The two counties succeeded in getting the needed 600,000 coupons. Tampa General got not just one dialysis machine, but two, his wife said.
As a police officer, Mr. Smith busted bad check writers and helped solve a murder, and left after 11 years with the rank of detective. He then served for nearly 20 years in a civilian role as a community police officer.
"He was very calm about his job. He handled things in an understated way," said Pinellas Park police Chief Dorene Thomas.
In 2007, doctors diagnosed Mr. Smith with kidney failure and put him on home dialysis. The treatment helped him stay out of a hospital until the last three months of his life.
Friends can't help but notice the coincidence. Said Webb: "(It is) ironic that he would succumb to kidney failure after working so hard to save so many others."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.