On Sunday, May 1, Houston lost a legend. Vernon Allen Smith, better known as Vern, the longtime trivia master at Griff's in Montrose, passed away suddenly. He was 62 years old. Vern leaves behind his mother, stepfather, sister, life partner Debra Jo Catlett and an adoring public whose Thursday nights will never be the same.
Vern hosted Thursday trivia night at Griff's for over a decade, where he soon became famous for his intricately crafted, deceptively difficult questions (which he wrote himself) and the good-natured grief he gave the teams who came to compete. In a 2013 article referring to him aptly as "the Alex Trebek of bar trivia," the Houston Press ran a retrospective of some of the best Vern questions over the years, including our favorite:
What young children's artsy instrument, or skill-learning toy, was first sold for a nickel in 1903? It's—I have to be fair. It was a package deal. Meaning—meaning, it wasn't a pencil—one pencil—for a nickel. In 1903. But I just want the product. Alright let's move on. I'm going to repeat it. What young children's artistic instrument—or skill-learning toy—was sold FOR A NICKEL in 1903. Think about it: It's, it's a—it's a toy, to play with, but—it's also improving one's skills. Learning skills. And it exists TODAY. It exists today. One word.
Vern was born on Misawa Air Force Base in Japan in 1954 before moving to Kentucky in 1963. He later enrolled in the US Army in 1972, serving before and after the Vietnam War as part of a search-and-rescue unit, parachuting into Laos and tracking down prisoners of war. It wasn't until 2005 that Vern began emceeing weekly trivia nights at Griff's, hosting a total of 550 booze-and-baudy-fact-filled evenings over 11 years, and awarding enough Jell-O shots during each week's final round to float the Battleship Texas.
A public visitation will be held this Saturday, May 7 at 2:30 p.m., with a memorial service to follow at 3 p.m., at the Bradshaw Carter Funeral Home (1734 West Alabama). A celebration of life, as Vern would have wanted it, will follow at Griff's (3416 Roseland). In lieu of flowers, Vern's family has requested donations be made in his memory to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Dori's Darlings Cat Rescue, the Disabled Veterans of America and the USO.