One serendipitous joy of my life is living three blocks from Mount Auburn Cemetery, my go-to destination for a walk any time of year. Our country’s first garden cemetery, consecrated 1831, is a national landmark of remarkable landscape brimming with intriguing monuments. The place reflects Boston’s history, both serious and novel, in a strikingly direct way: from the start Mount Auburn Cemetery accepted people of any race or creed: provided, of course, you had the entry fee. Thus it contains a wide-spectrum resting of Brahmins as well as successful immigrants. Lacking, as history so often does, only paupers and ne’er-do-wells.
Recently, I came upon a flat stone with a peculiar name. Took a photo and posted it on Facebook. “Spring comes to Mount Auburn Cemetery—plus we found a marker with smokin’ cool name!”
Ignorant me. I quickly received several comments from people better connected to the dithering height of Boston society. “Smoki Bacon! She and Dick interviewed me on their radio show way back in 1990.” “In 1970’s Boston, she was one of those people who was ‘famous for being famous.’” “She and Dick were always on the guests lists back in the day.”
I doubt the phrase ‘back in the day’ circa 1990 properly applies to a woman born in 1928, but I got the gist. However, rather than rely on Facebook friends alone, I did the twenty-first century thing, and Googled “Smoki Bacon Boston.” Up pops Bryan Marquard’s Boston Globe obit from December 30, 2019; a tribute many of us would love to leave as our legacy. You can read the whole thing here. Or, peruse the highlights that caught my own fancy.
Smoki Bacon, who went from child flower seller to Back Bay socialite, dies at 91
By Bryan Marquard Globe Staff, December 30, 2019, 7:39 p.m.
You might feel flattered if you were called a “legendary Back Bay socialite.” Smoki Bacon didn’t. She’d quickly set the record straight while holding you in place with a steady gaze made more intense by her trademark oversized glasses. “I’ve had my Social Security number since 1937,” she once told the Globe. “I’ve worked since I was 9 years old. I’m not schlepping around shopping for clothes out of a chauffeured limousine.”
Mrs. Bacon was 91 when she died Friday of Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly everything about her life was the stuff of oft-told legend — not least her ability to outlast everyone, everywhere, every time. “She was typically the person with the most energy in the room — when she was 45 and when she was 90,” said Joe O’Connor. They first met in 1974, when he was director of operations for the city’s celebration of the nation’s bicentennial and she ostensibly was his employee — though in practice he often took guidance from her.
A public relations consultant and fund-raiser for scores of events and organizations, and cohost with her husband, Richard Concannon, of the long-running TV show “The Literati Scene,” Mrs. Bacon also threw many of Boston’s most memorable parties and weddings (including her own). Her real calling was civic activism, though, and she compiled a list of jobs and volunteer work that could fill five resumes while helping shape Boston’s culture and character. Decades ago, she hid a pregnancy to keep her job and foil restrictions that excluded expectant mothers from working. She went on to stake a place on numerous boards that hadn’t welcomed women until she threw open the door.
Over more than a half-century, beginning in the 1950s, Mrs. Bacon served on more than 100 boards and committees, always finding a new way to squeeze 36 hours of work into a 24-hour day. Her causes ranged from eliminating all bigotry — on the basis gender or race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background — to her ardent support of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra.
Rising from poverty to prominence, Mrs. Bacon transformed from Adelaide Ruth Ginepra — who lived on welfare with her mother and brother in Brookline — to Smoki Bacon, whose Back Bay home was an entryway into the ranks of Boston’s who’s who. An intellectual and cultural matchmaker, she fostered friendships across boundaries among those who never realized they needed to meet until Mrs. Bacon introduced them, typically at a party she hosted.
Born Jan. 29, 1928, Adelaide Ginepra was the daughter of Ruth Burns and Alfred Ginepra. She was 7 when her parents separated, and she hit the job market early, selling flowers along The Riverway as a girl. “She understood exactly what it meant to be poor and so she devoted her life to working for hundreds of nonprofit organizations that have made a huge difference to people in the community,” said her daughter Brooks Bacon of New York City.
Graduating from Brookline High School in 1945, she attended the School of Practical Art and switched to Jackson Von Ladau School of Design, graduating in 1951. Returning to Boston after a spell working in New York as a graphic artist, she married Edwin Bacon in 1957. They lived in the Back Bay and she was already a force in the community when he died…in 1974.
In 1979, she married Concannon, who had been a Harvard College classmate of her late husband. Their wedding at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard and the reception on the Boston Tea Party Ship drew an estimated 800 people. The two of them launched programs including “The Literati Scene,” on which they interviewed numerous authors, sometimes in their Beacon Hill home, on local cable channels.
“I used to say that Auntie Mame could have taken a lesson from her. She was larger than life,” said Mrs. Bacon’s daughter Hilary Bacon Gabrieli of Boston.
Among the lessons Mrs. Bacon imparted was how to remain self-assured, regardless of adversity. According to filmmaker Yule Caise, “She never had to alter who she was. That’s how secure she was in the world.”
Part of Mrs. Bacon’s self-confidence was there for all to see and hear: her name itself. When she was a girl, teasing classmates had called her Smokey — a nickname she initially hated. One-upping them, she embraced the sobriquet, changed the spelling, and made it unforgettable. “I substituted an ‘i’ for the ‘ey,’” she confided with a smile.