Gerard “Jerry” Smith, the owner of PJ’s Pub, who had a passion for Johns Hopkins and other college sports, died July 18 at age 70 after a two-year battle with ALS, his family said.
The New Jersey native became a fixture in the Charles Village neighborhood near the Johns Hopkins University after he purchased PJ’s Pub in 1984.
He was an avid college sports and lacrosse fan, and PJ’s soon became a well-known off-campus spot for Johns Hopkins students, with Mr. Smith regularly attending games himself before offering to have the students either celebrate or recover at his restaurant afterward.
According to Dennis DeFeo, who grew up with Mr. Smith in Jersey City, Mr. Smith’s interest in sports took root in the 1950s and 1960s.
For years, Hudson County, New Jersey, served as a hot spot for basketball talent, with 1957′s NBA Rookie of the Year Tom Heinsohn coming from Jersey City.
Mr. DeFeo said that when they were growing up, he and Mr. Smith used to watch players like Heinsohn and Vinnie Ernst at the high school and college level at local games, spurring his passion for sports.
After attending Saint Joseph’s College in Maine and Rutgers University in New Jersey, Mr. Smith operated Subway restaurants in Baltimore and New Jersey during the company’s early years. Mr. Smith’s family wrote that the Baltimore location was the 21st Subway ever built.
After seeing success in the restaurant industry, Mr. Smith purchased PJ’s Pub on Charles Street in the summer of 1984, giving him a restaurant near the Johns Hopkins campus, where he’d regularly attend lacrosse games.
Haswell Franklin, 60, who met Mr. Smith when he was an undergraduate at the university, said the New Jersey native eventually became a regular part of the university’s lacrosse teams, as the sport was more of a focus at the university than it was back in New Jersey.
Mr. Franklin said Mr. Smith sponsored the university’s summer lacrosse team for several seasons and once helped pay for the team’s flight to a tournament in Toronto.
“He was one of the best summer league lacrosse sponsors you could ask for,” Mr. Franklin said.
He said that attitude translated to PJ’s, where Mr. Smith was a personable owner who wanted to make people feel welcome.
Mr. Franklin said Mr. Smith was always friendly to his patrons. “It’s why people liked PJ’s. He made it seem like ‘Cheers’ on TV. He knew your name,” Mr. Franklin said.
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Dave Pietramala, the former Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach who led the university to NCAA national championships in 2005 and 2007, wrote in a statement that Mr. Smith “was a true ambassador” for Hopkins who “always had time for you.”
“His care for others and kindness were endless,” Mr. Pietramala wrote. “A staple at athletic events, Jerry was the most passionate and loyal fan the Blue Jays had.
“For three decades Jerry was a friend, supporter and confidant,” he continued.
Mr. Smith is survived by his daughters, Dr. Elizabeth Smith Khoury of Columbia and Kathryn “Katie” Smith of Austin, Texas; his former wife, Marianne Kadyszewski; a brother, James William Smith; and his sisters, Patricia Smith Erving and Sharon Smith Theobald.