Joseph S. "Joey" Smith, owner of Prestige Beverage Group, who traveled the world seeking the best in wines and spirits, died April 18 from complications of lung cancer. He was 33.
"Joey was obviously not just a colleague but a close friend. From the moment I started here in 2011 and for the rest of my life, I will always be looking up at him," said Alex Thompson, CEO of Prestige Beverage Group.
"He was wise beyond his years and had an unflappable quality about him. He took in stride the business day to day with its ups and downs, and we had more ups than downs. He was always very direct in his vision and careful with business decisions," said Mr. Thompson.
"One of his great qualities was kindness, and he treated all on the same level whether he was taking a stroll through the warehouse talking to employees or with the president of a major winery. They were all treated with the same level of kindness," he said.
The son of James Smith, chairman of Breakthru Beverage Maryland, and Joanne Levin Smith, a Baltimore homemaker, Joseph Scott Smith was born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville.
After graduating from Boys' Latin School in 2001, he received a bachelor's degree in 2005 from Tulane University.
"Joey did not want any help, and after college went to Florida. He was always interested in commercial real estate and got a job in Jupiter, Fla., and built a business," said his father, a Pikesville resident.
While living in Florida, he met and fell in love with Natalie Cohen, whom he married in 2012.
"My dad started Reliable Liquors Inc. in 1947 and in 2002 we merged with Churchill Distributors and became Reliable Churchill. Earlier this year, we merged with Breakthru Beverage Maryland," said Mr. Smith.
"Joey sort of grew up around the business and he was always reading about wine. He was fascinated by it," said his father.
In 2009, Mr. Smith and his wife left Jupiter and returned to Baltimore, where he purchased Prestige Beverage Group.
The Elkridge-based company is a Mid-Atlantic distributor of wines, spirits and beers and serves customers not only in Maryland, but also in Washington and Delaware.
"It was a great opportunity, and he had a passion for it. As they say, it's not a job if you really love what you're doing," his father said. "He loved interacting with his suppliers and retailers and, at the end of the day, he'd call me and talk about the business. It really rejuvenated me."
"Joey liked visiting family-owned and boutique wineries. He'd go to the vineyards and meet with their owners," said Andrew Sagor, a brother-in-law who lives in New York City. "He spent plenty of time traveling and visiting with vineyards and suppliers around the world — from France to Nappa."
Some of Mr. Smith's favorite restaurants in Baltimore were Orzo Bay and Blue Hill Tavern in Canton as well as Cafe Milano in Georgetown, said Mr. Sagor.
"We always learned a lot about wines whenever we had dinner with my father-in-law and Joey," said Mr. Sagor. "He always enjoyed looking at the menu to see if they carried his wine, and if they did, he'd talk to the manager to see how they were selling. People were charmed by that."
Dino Lolli, the distributing company's sales manager, said: "I was always impressed by his knowledge of wine, which is a very complicated subject. It's about types of soil, grapes and their clones. It's not just knowing the difference between chardonnay or a Beaujolais.
"When we would be meeting with a supplier, Joey would drop some tidbit of knowledge and after the meeting I'd say, 'How the heck did you know that?' and he'd say, 'I used to sell it or I drank a bottle of it once,'" said Mr. Lolli. "His wine knowledge went well beyond his years."
"Joey always had a genuine warmth about him and he made whomever he was with feel special," said Mr. Lolli.
Mr. Smith espoused an open door policy.
"He was always accessible whether you were a driver, warehouse worker or a salesman," said Mr. Lolli. "He never turned away anybody. People just liked to come in and sit with him."
"Everyone got the same smile," said Mr. Thompson. "He was a joy to be around. We shared a wall and we never used the intercom. We just leaned around the wall and talked. For me, its strange not having him there, and personally, I will miss our end-of-day conversations when he would come and sit in my office."
Mr. Smith was first diagnosed in 2007 with a rare form of lung cancer.
"He built another business, went to work everyday, and he never let the cancer stop him, even though he had to endure great pain," his father said. "Joey did everything he wanted to do. He lived his life and he is my hero."
"He was a very private person and many people didn't know he had cancer," Mr. Sagor. "He was a hands-on executive and was still going to work a few weeks before he passed away."
Mr. Smith's philanthropic interests included the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation — which honored him several times on behalf of the lung cancer survivor community — and the LUNGevity Foundation.
A Bethesda resident, Mr. Smith was an avid golfer and a member of Woodmont Country Club.
"He was a great golfer and had a very good, fluid swing," said his father who often played with him. "Joey would play with anyone; he didn't care if you shot an 80 or a 100."
Mr. Smith was a lifelong member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
Services for Mr. Smith were held April 20 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife, father, mother and brother-in-law, Mr. Smith is survived by his stepmother, Donna Smith, a certified public accountant, of Pikesville; two sisters, Kim Sagor of New York and Amy Smith of Washington.