A. Smoki Bacon
January 29, 1928 – December 27, 2019
Adelaide Smoki Bacon, 91 of Boston passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s, surrounded by her friends and family. She was the daughter of the late Alfred L. Ginepra and Ruth D. Burns Ginepra of Brookline, MA and the sister of the late Alfred L. Ginepra Jr. Smoki was the wife of Ed Bacon from 1957 until his death in 1974, after which she married Dick Concannon in 1979, to whom she remained married until his death in 2018.
Smoki is survived by her two daughters, Brooks Bacon of New York, NY, and Hilary Bacon Gabrieli, and her son-in-law, Christopher Gabrieli of Boston, MA. Smoki also leaves behind five grandchildren, John, Abigail, Pauline, Lilla, and Nicholas Gabrieli of Boston, MA, and numerous nieces and nephews. Born at the cusp of the Great Depression into a working-class Boston family, Smoki grew up in a chaotic world. After her parents separated when Smoki was seven, Smoki’s mother Ruth struggled to make ends meet on only $6 a week. Smoki had to learn responsibility young, first selling flowers to passing cars on the riverway as a child and then lying about her age to secure a job at just twelve years old. She would never forget the bitter indignity of being forced to lift up her feet and show off the holes in her shoes at the local welfare office in order to prove that she really needed a new pair, an experience that impressed upon her the importance of respect and basic human dignity for all people.
Smoki grew up an outsider: as Italian Protestants in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, she and her brother Al were the target of such brutal bullying that she once landed in the ER with a ruptured appendix. The two of them quickly learned to be fighters. When three brothers were beating up on Al, Smoki called them out for being too scared to fight him one at a time and then promptly set up a time and a place for such a contest; the fight was broken up in the second round after Al had vanquished the first brother, but his victory was sufficient to teach them to leave him alone. In later years, she often reflected that the senseless ethnic, religious, and class-based violence of her childhood taught her to judge others by character rather than identity and to take on prejudices of all stripes, from race to religion to sexual orientation.
Smoki’s two constants were her family and her education. Her mother, who had been forced to leave high school for a factory job, scrimped and saved every penny to buy the cheapest possible home in Brookline so her children could attend the best neighborhood schools. Taking this lesson to heart, Smoki graduated from Brookline High School in 1945 with a passion for art - along with her lifelong nickname (and later legal name), “Smoki.” She subsequently matriculated from the Art Institute of Boston in 1947 and the Jackson Von Ladau School of Design in 1951. During the summers, Smoki earned money for tuition and her family as a waitress at the Mount Washington Hotel, where mischievous escapades such as cliff-jumping, midnight mountain-climbing, and racing down the tracks in front of oncoming trains made her the stuff of legend. When her fellow waitresses wrote plans such as “future doctor’s wife” on the staff’s “Roll Call” at the end of 1951, Adelaide Ruth “Smoki” Ginepra’s signature stood out: still visible today, Smoki boldly wrote that her plans were simply “New York City.”
But it was Boston, not New York, that Smoki soon took by storm. Driven to stand up for outsiders by the memories of her childhood, she quickly grew engaged in community outreach and political organizing in her beloved home city. Over the next six decades, Smoki threw herself into civic activism and organizing, serving on more than 119 volunteer committees and boards, from the Red Cross to the Urban League to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She loved blending activism with her passion for art: in 1968, she became director of the Craftsmobile, providing arts and crafts to underserved children across the city from East Boston to Roxbury. Politically, she was an impassioned activist who had the grit and courage to protest for Civil Rights, organize demonstrations against the Vietnam War, and serve on the fundraising committee for the Equal Rights Amendment. She even dared to dream of political office - an unlikely prospect for a woman born on the literal wrong side of the tracks in the 1920s! - running for state representative as a Democrat in 1980. Despite facing political reprisals for some of the more unpopular stances she took, she never tired in her lifelong quest to advocate for those without power, which saw her fight for school desegregation alongside Mel King, host a fundraiser for Black Panther Bobby Seale, and even lecture President Bill Clinton on the importance of granting asylum to Cuban refugees.
In the workplace, Smoki turned her artistic skills to scientific ends, working as a technical illustrator for MIT, at Baird Atomic, and at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman. Her career accomplishments included sketching the conceptual drawings for ARPANET, the forerunner to the internet, and illustrating the missing minutes of the Watergate tapes. Smoki also memorably served as the Special Events Director for Boston’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration and even helped host Queen Elizabeth in Boston! At work, she not only battled virulent sexism herself - she was forced to hide her pregnancy for months with a girdle so that she would not be forced to leave the workplace by sexist policies - but also stood up for those around her: when a cleaning woman named Maureen told Smoki that she was being paid less than her male peers for the same work, Smoki marched straight into the company treasurer’s office and demanded a raise on Maureen’s behalf (which of course she won).
In 1956, Smoki met her first husband, the caring and gentlemanly Ed Bacon, and married him at the Church of the Advent after a whirlwind six-month romance. Taking his name made her both the happiest woman and one of the most unlikely-named women in the world: “Smoki Bacon.” Just two years later, she gave birth to her first daughter, Brooks, with a second daughter, Hilary, following shortly thereafter. Tragically, after nearly two decades of marriage, Ed lost his life at the hands of a colleague as part of a life insurance fraud scheme. Following a lengthy legal and legislative battle, Smoki successfully pushed for the passage of “Ed Bacon’s Law” in 1990, which holds life insurance providers accountable for verifying changes in the beneficiaries of their policies. One of her proudest moments was ensuring that no other families would have to suffer as hers had. Happily, romance blossomed again for Smoki. Five years after losing Ed, Smoki married Dick Concannon, a dignified intellectual who became the dapper Desi Arnaz to her lively Lucille Ball. The two worked together on a variety of projects, most notably as co-hosts of their signature radio and television programs. From 1980 to 1995, she and her husband interviewed notable public figures on their radio show “Celebrity Time.” In 1997, they recast the show as The Literati Scene and made the jump to television, shifting their focus specifically to interviewing authors. They hosted a wide range of guests on the show, from bestselling authors to Nobel Prize winners to diplomats, Angela Lansbury to Dan Brown to Bill O’Reilly. All throughout her later years, Smoki continued to contribute to cultural life in Boston. She received a variety of honors, being named one of Boston’s Top 100 Female Leaders in 1980 by Boston Magazine, a notable graduate of Boston Public Schools by the Boston Globe in 1994, and to the Who’s Who list of American Women (13th Edition Marquis) in 1995.
Smoki was a fierce fighter whose indomitable strength, directed by her unwavering moral compass, passionate dedication to her community, and love for her family, made her a force to be reckoned with. She never lacked the moxie to take on what others might deem impossible with the courage, determination, and know-how needed to accomplish it. Despite the disadvantages presented by her outsider status as a woman growing up in a tough time, Smoki persisted, not only facing all her own challenges with style and spunk but also helping others overcome their obstacles. She was a strident egalitarian who loved to argue about politics and would proudly tell others that her influence led all five of her grandchildren to become debaters in high school. Her grandchildren, who adored her, were delighted to have a grandmother who, in addition to being an inspiration, continued to out-water ski them into her eighties, beat them onto Facebook as a lifelong early adopter of new technology, and consistently crushed them at cards. On her 90th birthday - when Smoki was honored with special commendation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for lifetime achievement - her grandchildren reflected on the life lessons she taught us all: “Put family first. Fight for those who don’t have a voice. Never, ever give up. And don’t forget to do it all with a little pizzazz.”
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra (https://www.landmarksorchestra.org/donate/donate-now/) and the Every Voice Coalition of students against sexual violence (http://www.everyvoicema.org/donate.html). Her loved ones will hold a private family ceremony in the coming days, and a larger memorial service to celebrate her life will be held in either June or July at the Harvard Faculty Club.
A. Smoki Bacon
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January 1, 2020
You have my deepest sympathy and condolences. Years ago, I knew Smoki Bacon when I worked at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman. Smoki was always so kind to me, and I admired her because of her cool name. Smoki Bacon was unique and will truly be missed by all!
January 1, 2020
I was part of her crew during the Bicentennial. Her spirit was contageous! She brought out the best in all of us and instilled a love of the history of this amazing city. For her, it wasn't just OK to be passionate, it was required!
My life is richer because it was touched by hers.
January 1, 2020
Smoki had the most boundless energy and spirit. She will be greatly missed.