Arlie Smith, a longtime and popular greeter at the Danville Costco, died early Tuesday morning after years of battling multiple sclerosis and cancer. He was 48.
A familiar face at one of the San Ramon Valley's most-visited stores for almost 25 years, Smith was known for his positivity, professionalism and friendly interactions with families -- even when his conditions sapped his strength and confined him to a wheelchair -- as well as for his devotion to raising support for hospitalized children through Costco's annual fundraising campaign.
He died at his home in Tracy around 1 a.m. Tuesday, according his wife Shari.
"There is not a better way he could have gone," Shari Smith said. "It was at home in bed. It was fast, he didn't suffer. He was able to get on the beach, ride his segway, do his projects to the very end."
Smith grew up in San Ramon, graduating from California High School in 1988. After serving two years in the Army Reserve and two years in the Navy, he started working at the Danville Costco on Fostoria Way in June 1993.
He made a strong impression on customers, who recalled his smile and genuine interest in their lives.
"He was a living angel on earth, for so many people," said Bridgette Loughnane, a Costco customer and Danville resident. "He brought so much goodness to so many people every day."
Perhaps no impression stronger than on his future wife. Shari met him in January 2002 while returning an item to Costco. Friendship blossomed into a budding relationship and the two married a year later.
The couple's lives took a turn about seven years ago when Smith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- a disease that also affected his mother. And then three years ago, he received another diagnosis: renal cancer, that metastasized to his bones.
But Smith chose to see his latest diagnosis as a blessing. That same day, he wrote a long Facebook post, sharing that his kidney cancer had spread to his bones, a diagnosis that might only give him a few years to live.
"Today I found out that I don't have too many tomorrows left," he wrote. "So I will try and treat each day as though I won the lottery. I have always said that if I won I would still work at Costco, that working there is more fun than work. I'm constantly surround by so many loving coworkers & members it's hard to explain the happiness I feel."
"I feel this is a gift," he added a little further down. "I have prayed on more than one occasion for God to take me quickly and not to slowly wither away and turn into a vegetable like my mother who had Multiple Sclerosis and died a slow death."
Smith felt particularly strong about helping children, and he was an avid participant in Costco's annual fundraising drive to benefit UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.
His support for Children's Hospital took an even greater leap, though, in 2015.
A group of Costco shoppers and community members who knew of his MS and terminal cancer surprised Smith with an expenses-paid trip to Laguna Beach for him and Shari. Smith initially turned down the gift, asking to have the money donated to Children's Hospital Oakland, though later he accepted the vacation after learning that money would also be donated to the hospital.
Bay Area media were at Costco that afternoon when the shoppers surprised Smith with the vacation, and stories and videos of the event went viral, along with Smith's call to support the children's hospital.
People started donating to the hospital and participating in the campaign in droves, and Smith achieved his goal of becoming the top-fundraising Costco associate. Those efforts helped Smith earn the Tri-Valley Hero Role Model Award from Embarcadero Media that fall.
All in all, over $230,000 has been raised in his name, Shari Smith said.
The last year brought even more significant changes to the Smiths' lives. Smith was confined to a wheelchair over a year ago, and the couple moved from their San Ramon townhouse to a one-story home in Tracy, so that Smith could more easily move around.
Shari Smith, who works at home as an eBay business consultant, would drive her husband to Danville, return to Tracy and then pick him up from work. As his work shifts slowly got shorter and shorter, she spent more time driving.
"I was a professional driver," she laughed.
Smith was in a lot of pain, his wife said, but you wouldn't know it. He was still his gregarious self and devoted himself to projects around their new house.
Shari Smith recalled that the two of them had been active, outdoorsy people before MS took that away from them, but after his diagnosis, "that was our new adventure."
"Up to two weeks ago, he said 'I thank God for MS and cancer because without them none of this would have happened,'" Shari Smith remembered.
At the request of his family, a memorial donation fund for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland has been set up in Arlie Smith's honor. The fund had raised over $12,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
"Arlie was a dedicated friend of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland for over 24 years and tirelessly raised funds for our patients despite his physical challenges," said Melinda Krigel, communications director for the hospital. "He had an enormous heart and we are enormously grateful for his unwavering commitment to our hospital."
A celebration of life service will be held for him at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville Friday at 12:30 p.m. All are welcome.
"I don't think you meet many people like Arlie, who have left a footprint like Arlie," said Ken Wooten, general manger of the Danville Costco.
"A lot of people talk about wanting to make a difference, but he made it a goal," he added.
Editor's note: The memorial service time was rescheduled after the original story was published. The new time is 12:30 p.m.