Senator Shares Story Of Son's Suicide

Oregon's Gordon Smith and his wife, Sharon, hope reaching out helps keep other families from meeting the same fate. Their 22-year-old son, Garrett, took his life in 2003, after a long struggle against depression. Tracy Smith has their story.

Politicians usually don't like to put their personal lives in the spotlight.

But Sen. Gordon Smith and his wife, Sharon, are doing just that, in the hope other families can learn from the very private and tragic story of their son's suicide.

The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith says the Smiths were a picture-perfect family, devoted to public service, their religion, and each other, until one terrible day when their son's darkest problem came crashing down on them.

"He played football," Sharon told Tracy. … "He was an Eagle scout. … He just was an all-American boy … and had tons of friends."

He seemed to be the perfect son, of a perfect father, a United States senator.

"I just felt," says Gordon, a Republican from Oregon, "like I had failed as a dad. I'd been out trying to and, in some way, to save the world (through) public service. But, I failed to save my own son."

"Had we known earlier," says Sharon, "I think we would have had a different result at the end. I do."

Garrett Smith was the second of three children Gordon and Sharon adopted. Although diagnosed at a young age with severe dyslexia, he seemed happy growing up, Tracy reports.

Then, when he was 17, Garrett "dropped a bombshell on us, that he was an alcoholic," Gordon says.

Gordon and Sharon discovered that their son was drinking right in their own home.

"Garrett had said, " 'It makes me feel like I can speak up far in class better,' " Sharon recalls, "that, 'I'm just more relaxed around the girls.' "

Garrett got help, and the drinking stopped.

"At the time," Smith asked, "did you think, 'It's just a phase. This is typical'?"

"(We thought it was) typical teenage behavior," Sharon responded, "and I think a lot of parents would think the same thing."

But then, Tracy says, came another warning sign: A year later, on his application to be a Mormon missionary, Garrett admitted that he suffered from depression.

"(I asked him) 'Why would you check that?' " Sharon told Tracy, "and he said, 'Well, because I'm depressed. And I am more and more all the time.' "

The Smiths were shocked. But Garrett insisted he'd be fine if he went away for two years. In fact, he was. But, Tracy says, when he returned home for college, he started drinking again, and seemed to fall into a dark hole.