Dan Gasby: The B. Smith Legacy, & The Love That Lives On

It’s been two years this month since Dan Gasby, and the world, lost Barbara “B.” Smith — restaurateur, model, author, businesswoman, television host, and transcultural lifestyle pioneer — who succumbed to her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 70.

From humble beginnings, Smith soared up top, busting ground along the way, from being one of the first African American woman to grace the cover of fashion magazines, to the company she built with Gasby, the first line by a Black woman to be sold nationally, featuring bedding, tabletop, and bath products at Bed Bath & Beyond.

There were the best-selling cookbooks, of course, and there were also the restaurants, including the one on Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf, not far from the East End home where Smith and Gasby lived.

And perhaps most poignantly, the book “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s,” penned by Smith and Gasby with Michael Shnayerson, which brought readers inside the challenges of the couple learning to cope with the painful disease on a day-to-day basis.

Instead of accepting defeat, Gasby and Smith created ways for others — both caregivers and those inflicted with Alzheimer’s — to cope, including the We Won’t Wait campaign, which demanded new thinking and new approaches to find a cure.

Recently Dan Gasby took a moment with us to talk about the love, and the business, he shared with Smith, and what made them both work so well.

We began by discussing, in brief, a new licensing partnership with American Home and Textiles for a new line, which was just announced last month.

“We’re in the process of rolling it out internationally and nationally,” Gasby said, casually. “But, to be quite candid, B. and I were groundbreakers in doing this 20 years ago when we first went with Bed Bath & Beyond. We were there for 20 seasons,” he continued. “Back then people didn’t even thinking about branding to the extent that we did. So I’m doing everything I possibly can, working with the designers, now without B. obviously, but I still understand her aesthetic.”

And understanding was at the heart of the couple’s marriage.

“Barbara and I were two sides of a coin,” he said, “and we understood our roles. She was the star and I was the support. To be honest, what made us successful is the same reason why so many couples don’t make it. And that’s because a lot of guys can’t handle playing second fiddle, or being support to a woman. I’ve never had a problem with understanding my role. It’s in a New York Times article — I was her cutman. She was the champ. She was the female Ali, and I was the cutman, Bundini Brown.”

Not just cutman, but coach as well? “I also knew how to bring out the best in her,” he acknowledged. “I knew how to gently push her without trying to dominate her. We used to say, ‘Two as one can move and make millions,’ move people and make money. That was our secret sauce.”

It was a special relationship from the get-go. Gasby recalled the first time he laid eyes on Smith — she was the hostess at a restaurant where he had brought a date, but his eyes kept returning to B., who, in a red corset, looked for all the world, he remembered, like “a beautiful chocolate-covered strawberry.”

He was a gentleman, and finished the date of course, but he kept thinking about Smith. He was hooked from the beginning. But rather than a trip on a roller-coaster, their marriage, according to Gasby, was like a glide in a swan boat through the Tunnel of Love.

“When I tell people that we never had one argument, they can’t believe it. But life is really a bell curve. On one side of it, everything is always wrong. And then on the other side, some people walk out the door and everything good happens. But the vast majority of people are somewhere on the bulge. Now, on both ends of the spectrum, it’s a small minority. But the vast majority of people live in that bulge.”

But, he said, “I was fortunate for 28 years to be on the good side, and, I would say, 18 of those years were just totally perfect.” Gasby recalled that when that perfection began to break down, when he became frustrated or confused by his wife’s behavior, it was because of Smith’s encroaching Alzheimer’s. But, like the frog which doesn’t know the water is getting hotter and it will soon boil to death, “I was too close to it. I just thought she was tired or burnt out.” When the diagnosis occurred, “What sustained us was our truth and honesty with each other.”

Prior to joining forces with Smith, Gasby had a highly successful television sales and production career. In 1989, Gasby created and co-produced “Big Break,” a musical variety show hosted by Natalie Cole that was a forerunner to “American Idol.”

Gasby went on to produce the first televised Essence Awards in 1992, and served as executive producer for the 25th Anniversary Essence Awards celebration in 1995. He continued to produce shows with and for B., along with the company’s magazines and acting as the majordomo at the couple’s three restaurants.

But he was always aware of his role as second in command, and he was more than okay with that. “A man can’t have a true relationship with a woman if there’s not in his toolbox a certain degree of femininity and submissiveness; not being dominant, but being supportive and following as opposed to having to lead,” he said. Yin and yang. The perfect balance.

“So many people can’t — men can’t — do that. And that’s an indication of their inability to understand. I never controlled Barbara. I never tried to control Barbara, and she never tried to control me. Our thing was, love is only two things. It’s a simple mathematic equation; it’s lust and trust. Lust without trust will be a bust, and trust without lust will turn to rust.”

Gasby smiled wistfully, the large gold hoop in his ear glittering. It’s his wedding band, created into a different piece of jewelry. Another reminder of how love can adapt and change, but still shine throughout the journey together — no matter what.

For more information, visit bsmith.com.

Bridget LeRoy

Bridget LeRoy co-founded The East Hampton Independent and the Children’s Museum of the East End, and has been honored with over fifty awards for editing and journalism from various press associations. Follow LeRoy on instagram @bridget_leroy.

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