The Smiths’ commitment to helping out our community.
Jeff and Kathryn Smith are a vibrant young couple with a successful business. They are head-turners when they enter a scene, especially with their three beautiful children, ages eight, six and three.
Mutual friend Harriet Dedman set up a blind date for the two in 1995 telling Kathryn, “I guarantee you’re going to marry him.” Kathryn recalls, “When I came home that night Mom asked me, ‘So, what’s wrong with him?’ This time I said, ‘Nothing. I’m going to marry him.'” “I thought she was gorgeous,” Jeff remembers. “I called her the next day, and from then on, we were a couple. We just celebrated our tenth anniversary.”
Mary Kathryn Sacco Smith grew up in a large extended family. Her father, Sam Sacco, graduated from St. Thomas High School and St. Thomas University. The Sacco Bros. Grocery Store bought a nice life for him, Nita and their three daughters. Their Bellaire home was just two miles from his parents, Sam and Mary Sacco.
Kathryn and her sisters spent carefree summers swimming in their grandparents’ pool, while great-aunt Kate lived next door and next door to her was great-aunt Arance. “Neither had any children and they doted on us girls. It was compound living,” says Kathryn. Kathryn went to St. Thomas More Parish School, then to St. Agnes Academy, and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy from the University of St. Thomas.
Jeff’s parents, Glenna and Steve Smith, hail from Coleman in West Texas. The oil and gas business took the fourth generation Texans on a tour of the state. In the summer of 1980, the family moved to Houston. While at Memorial High School, Jeff became interested in politics. After graduating from the University of Texas, Jeff began his political career working on Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s 1991 campaign. After involvement in a number of other political races, Jeff became a partner and director of public relations and marketing for The Abbey Group. He helped make what had been Abbey Party Rents into the largest party rental and event production firm in the Southwest.
Meanwhile, his future bride was beginning her first job in fundraising and public relations with the American Diabetes Association. “I remember thinking then that this is an awful disease and thank God it will never affect me because it doesn’t run in my family,” Kathryn explains. By the time she married Jeff, Kathryn was serving as development officer for UNICEF. When offered the position of corporate relations officer for UNICEF in New York City, the young couple jumped at the idea of living in The Big Apple.
“We promised that when we started our family we would move back to Houston. Little did we realize it would be exactly 9 months later,” Jeff recalls. They loved their time in New York, but really wanted to raise their children in Houston. Very soon after, they moved back to Houston, opened their own full-service public relations firm, Smith &Sacco Ltd., and had their first child, Stephen.
Life was beautiful. They were having fun with the children, building their business, going to parties and being active on the charity circuit. While Jeff is a lifetime member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Kathryn is a member of the Houston Junior League, they have both served on the boards of quite a number of charities — from the Houston Grand Opera, Ballet and Symphony League to The Partnership for Baylor College Medicine, March of Dimes and United Cerebral Palsy.
Last year, Kathryn became the youngest woman in history to be named an ABC Channel 13 Woman of Distinction at the Crohn’s and Colitis Winter Ball. “The week of the announcement party I was giddy,” Kathryn says. “It is such an honor and I was really excited.” The announcement party was a festive event at Saks Fifth Avenue with lots of cameras, friends and applause. There was just one glitch. At 18 months old, baby Sam was sick.
After the party, they became increasingly worried about Sam and bundled him off to Texas Children’s Hospital the next morning. “Things happened very quickly,” Jeff remembers. “The doctor pricked Sam’s finger and tested his blood. In the ten seconds it took the doctor to prick his finger and read his blood sugar level, our lives changed completely. We had an absolutely charmed life until that moment.” Sam’s blood sugar level was 798. Normal blood sugar ranges between 80 and 120. He was immediately rushed into intensive care.
The diagnosis of type I (juvenile) diabetes brought a flood of memories to Kathryn who knew all too well what it meant. “I saw clearly the face of my friend at the American Diabetes Association and all her suffering with the disease. I heard my thoughts from back then about how this disease could never touch me.”
Kathryn and Jeff now want to help educate parents about the warning signs. “Sam would always want another bottle. We were changing the sheets and diapers all night long. Excessive thirst and frequent urination, along with rapid weight loss, are key signs of diabetes.” Sam was in ICU for two days and spent another four in the hospital.
Now a year and a half later, three-year-old Sam is not stable. His body produces no insulin. His blood sugar takes a daily rollercoaster ride between 40 and 400. Jeff says, “It’s the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. It’s like having a newborn all the time. I check his blood sugar levels at 10 p.m., at midnight and at 2 a.m.”
Jeff and Kathryn are now dedicated to finding a cure for the disease. Jeff is serving on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Kathryn is co-chairing the May 12 JDRF gala. Of co-chairs Kirby McCool and Elizabeth DeLuca and underwriting chairs Rosemary Schatzman and Greggory Burk, Kathryn says, “We’ve all been good friends forever. They are a huge part of our support group.” The gala is in honor of Sam and all other children suffering from juvenile diabetes, while the goal is to raise $750,000 dollars to help find a cure for the disease.