Robert Forest Smith III

Seventeen was too young to die. Yet my brother’s spirit lives on. Grateful for all that I learned with him and am still learning about life without him. Join the FB group who knew him.


Becky and Forest, August 1978

For seventeen years I had a brother on this earth. His name was Forest–Robert Forest Smith III as he liked to sign his name. On September 3, 1978, he hit a piling while water-skiing at Lake Hickory. Nine days later he died, never regaining consciousness.

He was president of his high school’s student council, an athlete, a musician, and an active leader in the church. He had his sights set on Wake Forest University, our parents’ alma mater, then law school and a career in politics. The young man had a dream and was working hard to make it a reality.

“I would change nothing,” he wrote on the last line of his college application essay—the last words he would ever write. The next day he would go water-skiing. On his last round before coming home for dinner, he hit the end of a pier. He was 17 when he died. I was 20.

Forest and I were more than siblings; we were the best of friends. We confided in one another, debated political issues, and probed deep philosophical questions about the meaning of life.

We were proud of each other and our family. One of my prize memories is the night we won the high school dance contest. I brought back all the Chapel Hill latest dance steps and we shagged, hustled, and bopped our way through the night. He was proud to have me as his date. I was proud to be his date. We were an awesome team.

I was a junior at UNC-Ch when Forest died. I almost dropped out that semester. My mind was so consumed with grief; I had no room for learning, only pain. Somehow, I made it through.

I’ve come to be thankful that I had a brother. Not everyone is so lucky to have that experience. But even now, decades later, revisiting that time in my life causes those embers of my love for him to burn bright with fresh hurt of the loss. I miss him so, every day.

But he is worth the hurt. Worth the pain. Worth remembering.

What do you remember about Forest?