BRATTLEBORO — Even when he wasn’t delivering fresh fish to his dozens of customers around the region, Adam Smith was thinking about fish.
“He loved fishing on the Cape,” said Darlene Smith, his widow. But what he really liked to do was fish with his family, she said.
“Even though he worked 80 hours a week, he still made family time for his kids. That’s what he really cared about. He was the best dad ever.”
Adam Smith, 58, was found dead of an apparent heart attack in his part-time home in Florida on May 9.
There will be a memorial service for him at the Eagles Club in Brattleboro on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., with a special service beginning at 2:30.
Darlene met Adam in 1996 when she was waitressing at the Steak Out on Putney Road. Adam had been using the coolers there since 1989 to chill the fish he brought back two days a week from Boston. Late at night, after the restaurant was closed, he would get the fish out and start cutting for his many customers.
He started out with five customers and eventually was delivering fish to close to 80, some as far away as Stowe.
They now have about 35 customers, including many of the restaurants in Keene and Brattleboro, as well as the co-ops in Putney and Brattleboro.
In 1999, Adam and Darlene purchased a restaurant on Canal Street and renamed it Gillies, a place to process and store fish and to serve it up to customers.
“That’s when we started the retail business,” said Darlene.
They married in 2003, when Darlene had two kids from a previous marriage.
“He became their bonus dad,” she said, “spoiling them rotten.”
She and Adam had two more kids together.
“He loved biking, fishing, camping and golfing with his kids,” she said.
Darlene said Adam was particularly proud of a hole in one he shot at Bretwood Golf Court in 2018.
“Hole number 3, 170 yards,” she said. “Not everyone gets a hole in one.”
A little more than 10 years ago, they sold the location on Canal Street and reopened Adam’s Seafood on Putney Road. They also opened a retail location in Keene, N.H., which they sold to Jen Cormier three years ago.
Because his customers knew that Adam was dedicated to finding the freshest fish, they stuck with him over the years.
Judy Hueber, who bought the Chesterfield Inn with her husband, Phil, in 1987, has been an Adam’s Seafood customer since Adam opened the business.
“We started with him because his fish was the best,” said Hueber. “And he never missed a delivery.”
But more importantly, she said, Adam was a happy guy and had an infectious laugh.
“He was so good-natured, with tons of personality and always laughing and joking.”
Richard Johnson, who’s been the food services director at Kurn Hattin Homes in Westminster since 1992, also met Adam at the Steak Out.
“Adam always had a smile on his face and had a laugh I just loved,” said Johnson. “He was an all-around good guy and a good friend.”
Tom Darling, who operated Peter Havens on Elliot Street with Gregg Van Iderstein from 1989 to 2012, was a customer from “day one.”
“We saw him once a week for nearly 25 years,” said Darling. “He was one of those purveyors we didn’t have to worry about the quality or condition of his product.”
Darling said he and Van Iderstein considered Adam “a silent partner,” because their menu was built to feature the fresh fish he brought up from Boston.
“We had an accent on seafood because of him,” said Darling.
But more than that, he said, Adam was “A very special character, very funny, always upbeat and always telling jokes and stories.”
“We treasured his friendship and his expertise,” said Darling.
Over the years, Adam had been dialing back on his trips to Boston, relying on Scott Birnie, who’s been with Adam’s Seafood for 23 years, to make runs for him.
“I was a chef at Elm City Brew Pub [in Keene],” said Birnie, who started out cutting fish for Adam. “And I used to buy all my fish from Adam. He asked if I could cut salmon and I said I could and he said ‘I can teach you the rest.’”
Birnie said Adam’s absence will leave a big hole in the business, but they plan to keep on keeping on with Darlene, Darryl Doucette and Sharon Basoli.
“We’re going to remain Adam’s Seafood. I have to. I feel like I have no choice because Adam would be so upset if I just stopped. You got to keep going.”