Fifty years of marriage, five kids, 15 grandchildren and multiple businesses – a lot has happened since Gail Coyte and Roger Smith first met in the halls of North Central High School.
“I used to watch for him to walk in,” recalled Gail. “I watched him park his VW Bug from my homeroom window, and then I’d time it to get into the hallway when he walked in.”
Roger noticed her hair.
“Gail had this crazy flip,” he said, smiling.
Yet when he finally asked her out, she turned him down – several times.
“She did play hard to get,” Roger recalled.
So, he asked her fraternal twin sister out, instead.
“They had one date, and my sister said, ‘You can have him!’ ”
However, Gail and Roger’s first date was less than auspicious. They went to a movie at the Garland Theater, and Gail started feeling sick.
“I threw up on the front steps after the movie,” she said. “He offered to take me home, but I insisted I wanted to finish the date, so we went to Shakey’s for pizza.”
She passed on the pizza.
Despite that less than romantic first date, Roger said, “I was really drawn to her. I wanted to get to know her better.”
After graduation, he attended the University of Washington, while she went to Central Washington University.
One year at different schools was enough. They both transferred to Eastern Washington University. While attending EWU, they each had a transformative experience.
“We were each listening to a cassette tape by (Christian author) Hal Lindsey,” Gail recalled. “We were in different cubicles at Eastern. After listening to the tape I decided to be a Christ-follower.”
They didn’t talk until later that evening, and to her amazement, Roger revealed he’d made the same decision at the exact same time. For them, it was confirmation that they were meant to be together.
Some months later when Roger drove her to Value Mart to get popcorn, Gail wasn’t surprised. She’d given him a popcorn popper when he graduated from high school, and he was hooked on the salty snack. She was surprised, however, when he insisted that she go with him instead of waiting in the car.
It turned out he wanted to show the engagement ring he’d picked out for her. It met her approval, so he drove her to Corbin Park.
“He swooped me up and carried me to a picnic table and set me on top of it. Then he got down on one knee and proposed,” said Gail.
On Dec. 14, 1968, they married at Fourth Memorial Church.
A snowy honeymoon at Schweitzer awaited them, along with a slight glitch. Gail had packed two suitcases for the trip. The best man had loaded only one in the car.
“I had no winter clothes!” she said. “I had to wear my husband’s long johns and sweatshirt to play in the snow.”
They settled in a fully-furnished house on the South Hill. Gail had left EWU and graduated from business school, and was employed as executive secretary to the county coroner and the county health officer.
Daughter Monica was born in May 1970, and attended her dad’s college graduation six months later. Monica was joined by brother Peter in 1971 and sister Glory in 1972.
Glory was born in Portland, where the family had moved so Roger could attend Multnomah School of the Bible for a year.
When Gail’s father became ill, they returned to Spokane so Roger could run the family business while her father recovered. Roger then went on to work for a local church and later a small business, while Gail stayed home with their family, which had grown to include David, born in 1975, and Luke in 1980.
In the early 1980s the telecommunication business took off, and Roger was at the forefront. He’d been working for Romac, a firm that installed switching equipment for Northwest phone companies. When that business failed, Roger and Gail founded TeleDynamics and later, Teknon, and began installing cabling for large businesses across the U.S.
The company quickly grew from the two of them to 400 employees at its height.
“We’d always dreamed of working together,” said Gail. “He’s the visionary person, and I’m the detail person.”
With the telecom businesses booming, the couple founded Humanix, a career placement company, in 1987.
Though their businesses profited, their relationship began to show signs of strain. Gail had originally agreed to work with Roger for two years. The two years stretched into 10, as she found she thrived in the fast-paced world of big business.
“When you work together you have to be able to separate business from home life, and we weren’t able to do that,” she said. “It took a toll on us and our kids.”
In the early 1990s, they sold Humanix to the employees and in 1992, Gail stepped back from TeleDynamics.
“My identity was wrapped up in the business,” she said. “I felt like I’d cheated my kids – that I hadn’t been as invested in them. I quit cold turkey. It was time to invest in things with eternal value.”
The change wasn’t easy. Gradually, Gail found new direction and finally had time to pursue her passion for global missions, making many humanitarian trips overseas.
Meanwhile, Roger was getting weary. The telecom boom was over, and he had to close offices and lay people off.
“I was ready to be done,” he said.
He sold the company in 2006, and he, too, found life outside of work. He’s served on the board of Northwest Christian Schools for 37 years, the last 25 as chairman. The school recently renamed the chapel “Smith Chapel,” in his honor.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the couple took a coast-to-coast road trip this summer.
“Twenty-seven days, 8,000 miles and only two arguments,” Roger, 70, said grinning. “It was a blast!”
In their Five Mile Prairie living room, Gail, 70, looked at the man she used to watch from her homeroom window, so many years ago.
“He’s always been my steady rock, a consistent godly leader,” she said. “That’s very attractive to me.”
Roger took her hand.
“I not only love her, I respect her skills and abilities that have allowed us to build a life together,” he said. “And it’s been an amazing life.”
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