They work together, act together, cook together and laugh together. Dori and Rupert Smith are an example of how committed couples can inspire and support each other to become the best they can be, both individually and as a couple.
Dori, currently president of Democrats of the Desert, was born 70 years ago in Madera, Calif., before being raised in Virginia. She was born second in a family that includes two sisters and a brother. “My mom grew up typically Italian in New York,” she says, “and I would describe her as ebullient: She loved to dance and was a lot of fun, but she also was the one who helped to unionize the tool-and-die company where she worked when we were kids. My dad was a hard-working man who just wasn’t around a lot.
“I was once told that the second-oldest always gets into trouble, and I certainly did. I got pregnant and married very young, but then I finished high school. I waited 10 years before deciding to go back to college, majoring in journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and had worked up until then in the public-affairs department at GTE. After I finished my degree, I came back as a mid-level manager.”
Rupert, 73, was born and raised in Arcadia, Fla. “I was an only child,” he says, “with a pessimistic, introvert mother who was married to an optimistic, extrovert father. I don’t remember my mom ever being overtly happy. She saw the world as black and white, and I had to learn that isn’t true. Somehow, they made me into an idealist who looks for the good in other people. Of course, taken to an extreme, that can be a problem, but I start from a position of trust with everyone.”
Rupert also studied journalism in college, at the University of Florida. He also spent some time in the Army (“They put me in the information office for a while”) and then went into public relations and marketing at GTE.
“They saw my Army experience—and I ended up there for 24 years,” he said.
Dori and Rupert met while working with GTE-Southeast in Durham, N.C. With a clear note of pride, Rupert describes Dori as having been hired as a secretary, but being ambitious enough to go back to school and get her degree so she could come back to the company in management. Rupert was the youngest vice president in the company’s history at that time, and at one point was moved to Connecticut. Dori had taken a job in Indiana after her divorce.
“We finally got tired of flying back and forth, and moved in together in Connecticut in 1987,” says Rupert.
Rupert’s first marriage of 15 years had produced two sons; Dori’s first marriage of 18 years had produced a son and daughter. “We moved in together in 1987 and married in 1994, and we all have a good relationship,” says Rupert.
What makes it work? “He’s patient, kind and generous,” says Dori. “He always encourages me in everything I want to do, and helps me with whatever it takes.”
Says Rupert: “I let her do whatever she wants, and she’s the same with me. If you start thinking about changing the other person, you’re ultimately doomed. I think about a relationship as a three-legged stool: trust, respect and a common sense of humor—the ability to laugh at the same things. I still smile whenever Dori enters a room.”
The Smiths have been Palm Desert residents for 21 years. They began working together locally doing public relations, primarily for local theatrical groups, and both have become involved in local theater themselves. Rupert originally got involved in acting while in Connecticut.
“I needed something that would fit my creative side. I was told to try acting and got involved with a Wilton playhouse. I tried out and got the part, and it wasn’t difficult, because I had done so much public speaking in my job.”
Working with Script to Stage to Screen (S2S2S), both Rupert and Dori have starred in and been nominated for awards in staged readings. During the pandemic, when nothing is being staged for audiences, Rupert has been writing and producing video works for S2S2S that are available online.
For Dori, she started acting when Gina Bikales, the head of S2S2S, asked her to read a part. “I thought it would be fun to do something onstage with Rupert,” she says.
Both have also helped the theater company with website design, public relations and marketing.
“Dori can’t sit still,” says Rupert. “She has to be doing multiple things at the same time.”
Says Dori: “I am always extremely busy. I started the Executive Women’s Golf Association, and that’s how I met women friends when we came to the desert. I also started Moms Demand Action here in the Coachella Valley in response to the gun violence against children across the country.”
Dori attributes her current position as president of Democrats of the Desert (DOD) to something her mom said. “When I was a kid, I remember my mom always said, ‘Vote! Vote the whole Democratic ticket! Vote! Vote! Vote!’ I heard about a meeting of Democratic Women of the Desert and started getting involved. I worked to elect Congressman Raul Ruiz, and worked on Barack Obama’s campaign. When I joined DOD, I realized I’d like to lead the organization. I have a terrific board, and we’re holding Zoom meetings and social events. It’s a real challenge to keep people involved with all we’re going through right now.”
Dori had tap-dancing on her bucket list, so she took lessons and is now dancing with her group, including getting a spot in the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call. “But I try to relax, take a nap daily and read,” she says. “I do have a deep need to stay busy. I wish I still had the energy I had 10 years ago.”
Did I mention the cooking? Dori is constantly posting pictures of the beautiful meals Rupert prepares, and together, they make scrumptious pies.
Rupert’s advice to his younger self? “Don’t sweat the small stuff … and it’s all small stuff.”
Dori’s? “Slow down. Enjoy every minute.”
Dori and Rupert Smith are an example of how a committed couple can inspire and support each other—and, in the process, inspire us all.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.