20 years of walking for her son

She needed faith, so she went back to church.

She needed to learn to drive, so she did.

She needed the consolation of work, so she increased her hours at Burger King, where she advanced to manager, retiring only at the age of 79, and only because she didn't like working with computers.

And she needed to walk.¿

She did the first Chicago AIDS walk in the same year Ron died, 1993. She liked the grand beauty of the city, the comfort of the excited crowd, the sense that she was helping other people understand the disease and survive it.

Her husband, Mike, walked, too. In 2008, the year before his death, he did the course in a wheelchair, wearing an oxygen tube. The kids tried to get Mae to sit in one as well. She sat. And promptly stood up.

"It's a walk," she said.

She has rejected all talk of a wheelchair ever since.

This year, to mark Smith's 20th walk, everyone in the family has been summoned. Kids, spouses, grandkids, great-grandkids. They're expecting a walking crew of at least 50, everyone dressed in a green shirt, after which they'll come back to Smith's house for her annual memorial cake, which she bakes in one of her 43 cake pans.

"You see her on that walk," her daughter-in-law Tammy Smith said, "and you see her standing taller and prouder."¿

"Strutting," her daughter Gayle said.

"For Ron," Mae Smith said. "For Ron."

And because it's hard to be sad when you're walking.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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