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Whitestone dad honors son with Belmont races

Are you looking for a sure thing at the races, an automatic winner or a long shot that is a guaranteed to pay off?

Then the 12th annual Richard Mark Smith Fund’s “Day at the Races” at Belmont Park is a bet you have to make.

The June 3 event, which raises money to help patients receiving chemotherapy and blood transfusions at Long Island Jewish Medical Center to overcome boredom, loneliness and the anxiety of extended treatment, was started by the Smith family to keep their son’s memory alive.

“My daughters and I were talking and bemoaning our fate of losing our youngest and only son,” said Alvin Smith, Richard’s father and a Whitestone resident. “He was an aficionado of the races and a better handicapper than I am. So when we decided to do something to put his name somewhere, we came up with the idea of a day at the races.”

Richard Mark Smith died in 1990 at age 36 from AIDS, which he contracted from a tainted blood transfusion he received while undergoing two colon resections to fight Crohn’s disease, an extremely painful inflammatory ailment that affects the colon.

Smith said his only son and youngest daughter both suffered from Crohn’s disease. He said his daughter, who had two resections, lives a normal healthy life and is married with two kids.

“We remembered how he suffered,” Smith said, “and doing what we do is a little thing to make people more comfortable.”

Over the years they have been able to purchase televisions, VCRs, a giant selection of tapes, magazine subscriptions and several portable telephones that the patients and their families can use, he said.

The fund has also put up a giant awning stretching from the entranceway of the Oncology Building to the sidewalk to cover the patients after they are dropped off during inclement weather, Smith said.

He said during blood transfusions and chemotherapy patients have to lie on their sides while they are poked and prodded. So they installed the televisions in the treatment room “to put their mind off their suffering,” he said.

“All our efforts are directed towards making the patients feel more comfortable during their extended treatment,” said Laura Chase, Richard’s sister.

Smith described his son, who grew up in Roslyn, L.I., as a great athlete. He said one of Richard’s greatest accomplishments was to make his high school basketball team as a freshman.

His son’s friends on the basketball team and many high school classmates come out to the event every year to share their memories.

“It has become a tradition,” he said, “and it is great to see the camaraderie among them.”

The event — including a great day of racing — is open to anyone and costs $75 per person, which includes a luncheon in the garden terrace area at Belmont.

He said the fund-raiser attracts family members from as far as Florida and Boston in addition to friends from Smith’s college days at Ohio State University.

The “Day at the Races” is “important in the sense that we would rather have the event than going to the grave site,” Smith said. “And, fortunately, we have never had a bad weather day.”

Interested individuals should contact Laura Chase at 516-365-8812

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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