Don Ross of Phoenix, Arizona passed away as a result of Covid complications while residing in the Pueblo Norte facility in Scottsdale on February 18th, 2021, at the age of 80. He was preceded in death by his parents, Mary Helen Smelick and Val Smelick.
His surprise passing brought great sadness to his family: his brother Bob Smelick, his sister-in-law Gail Smelick, and their three children, Christopher Smelick (Rebekah), Alexandra McBryde (Jeremiah), and Gillian DiLallo (Marcus). He will be greatly missed by his family and friends who were fortunate enough to know and love him, including his cousin Flo Conway, his former wife Renee Moore, and Sue Levytsky, his valued colleague and friend. Bob reflected, “He was the best and most talented brothers ever! We never had a disagreement or argument…in almost 80 years!”
Don’s Arizona roots run deep. His maternal grandfather, Luther McDonald, came to Arizona with his family before Arizona was a State and established a homestead with his Scottish relatives in Paradise Valley. Don was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in 1940. He attended Grandview Grammar School and went on to graduate from West Phoenix High School.
Don’s aptitude for the Arts was evident in grade school. Before the age of 10 he had important acting roles in stage plays at the Phoenix Little Theater and the Sombrero Playhouse. He was cast in a central role in the play On Borrowed Time alongside well-known stage actor, Henry Hull, at the El Teatro Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1950 actress Ann Sothern, who had observed Don’s talent at the Sombrero Playhouse, convinced Producer Robert Stillman to cast Don in a starring role in the Hollywood movie Sound of Fury, a ‘film noir’ production with a star-studded cast that included Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy.
Don’s artistic talents extended beyond acting. While in high school he was recognized as a talented Illustrator and Cartoonist. After graduation from high school Don attended the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he began to prepare for a career in advertising. While working on his undergraduate degree, he also served in the Arizona Air National Guard, the California Air National Guard and with the United States Air Force when he was called up for active duty during the early years of the Vietnam conflict.
His early advertising career included Creative Supervisor positions with Leo Burnett in Chicago and Young & Rubicam in both Chicago and Los Angeles. He eventually took his advertising talents to New York City, where he was Vice President and Creative Art Supervisor with Young & Rubicam. He then became Senior Vice President and Group Creative Director of New York based Wunderman Worldwide. Over the years his portfolio of clients included IBM, Merrill-Lynch, Clairol, Bristol-Myers, Gallo Wine, the U. S. Postal Service, Frito-Lay, New York Telephone Company, Excedrin, and many more.
While pursuing and excelling in his adverting career, Don continued to find additional outlets for his prolific creative talents. In Chicago, he found time to return to acting with Second City, where his innate comedic nature brought joy to many. While in New York, during his downtime and for his personal enjoyment, he wrote three novels and two stage plays. After his retirement from advertising, he illustrated and co-authored two successful children’s books that featured a loveable canine, Walter the dog. His two-year old great-nephews enjoy these books today!
In the early nineties, Don moved to San Francisco and started one of the first Website design firms in the world, Z&J Productions. He designed Websites for financial firms, artists and start-up companies.
In 2002 he moved back home Arizona to be closer to and care for his mother, Mary Helen Smelick, whose health at the time was failing.
When he arrived back in Arizona, he began painting a series of works based on photos of American Indians taken by Edward S. Curtis in the early 20th century. This series was followed by paintings of well-known persons who are recognized by just one name. Examples include ‘interpretive paintings’ of “Duke”…”Dutch”…“Bogie”…“Marilyn”…“Teddy.” His paintings have been shown in galleries around the country where they have been met with enthusiastic reviews and commercial success.
From his very early years, Don’s life was driven by a creative flame that burned within him. He could memorize lines of a play in one reading. He created a cartoon series for his school newspaper. He created ‘campaigns’ for his high school friends who were running for school office…including campaigns for his brother. He was always drawing, writing copy, painting, or doing sketches of people he observed in everyday life - while having dinner out, standing in line at Safeway, or riding an escalator at Nordstrom.
He was an extremely engaged and energized person. But he was also a very humble and thoughtful person throughout his life. He would leave himself notes reminding him to learn more about a new color palette, to re-read an interesting technology article, to subscribe to a new art related website. However, his notes were also to remind him to find a special gift for his sister-in-law, or to send his brother a new book, or to draw a cartoon for his nephew and nieces, or to check-in with his cousin and former wife. He drew beautiful pictures of his parents and sent them with notes saying “I could not have done this without your support and love.” He was kind to everyone he met. His former wife Renee reflected “he was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever known.” A sentiment shared by many.