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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Ep. 199 - Eugene Smith


Hello and welcome to The Rob Burgess Show. I am, of course, your host, Rob Burgess.

On this our 199th episode our guest is Eugene Smith.

Eugene Smith was born in 1957 in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Fresno, California. He was working in Georgetown, Guyana, for Peoples Temple on November 18, 1978, when he lost his mother, wife, and infant son in the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown.

Repatriated by the U.S. authorities on New Year’s Eve, he broke a $50 bill stashed in his shoe to buy breakfast for himself and a fellow survivor. Returning to California at age 21, Smith faced the daunting challenge of building from scratch a meaningful and self-sufficient life in the American society he thought he had left behind. He retired in 2015 after 22 years’ service with the California Department of Transportation. He lives in the Bay Area.

On May 11, 2021, Smith's book, “Back to the World: A Life After Jonestown,” was published by Texas Christian University Press.

A quick programming note:

As I mention in the episode, I was a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal from 2007 to 2009. During that time, I also had a chance to interview fellow Jonestown survivor, Tracy Diaz, formerly known as Tracy Parks.

I also had a chance to interview Rebecca Moore for that story. Moore lost two sisters in Jonestown and now is now professor emerita of religious studies at San Diego State University. With her husband, Fielding McGehee III, she co-manages the website, Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

Moore was instrumental in providing context for that 2008 article, and connecting me with Eugene Smith for this episode.

Thank you again. Anyone who is even remotely interested in the good, bad and otherwise of Peoples Temple is encouraged to visit their website. It is truly a valuable historical resource.

Finally, I want to thank Tracy Diaz and Eugene Smith for taking the time to share their stories with me over the years.

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