Saturday, July 17, 2010

You always want to be remembered by your most recent work...

Monica Lamb Yorski of the Daily News provided the best of the weeks reviews on the passing of Walter Smith, Prince Rupert's iconic man of tourism, so respected that he was showered with many accolades and awards over the years.

From the brief page three mention of his passing in Wednesday's edition, Ms. Lamb Yorski expanded significantly Friday on a remarkable life lived on the north coast, one which saw much change in the community he called home for 94 years.

It was a final assignment that probably couldn't have been left in better hands, having lived a good number of years in the community, Ms. Lamb Yorski perhaps had the best vantage point of Mr. Smith's life. Through her time at the Daily, her features and personality profiles have been among her strongest of works, so the match seemed perfect for a farewell review of Mr. Smith's life.

For the Daily News journalist, as well as for her fellow employees it was no doubt a most heart wrenching week and  a review of the recent editions for the most part show that it was her byline that seemed to be dominant during the days since the announced closure of the paper.

Judging by the content of the paper on Friday, many of the farewell features and remembrances were being catalogued and composed by the remaining staff this week, leaving the day to day coverage of Prince Rupert events largely to her and her computer.

The fact that she provided comprehensive news on a daily basis while weighing all the emotions of a looming job loss, provides an insight into an ability to stay focused on a job to the very end.

Beyond that day to day work requirement, she also put together two impressive  and classy columns that revealed much of the atmosphere of the developments at the Daily since the announcement by Black Press of the paper's closure.

Her columns, ( read here and here) consisted of heart felt personal accounts of the tribulations of a newspaper coming to an end, she didn't express regret that the paper hadn't been appreciated or had been taken for granted, nor did she wonder aloud if anyone was up to covering the news in this community as the paper had in the past.

Instead, she offered a look into a world that many in Prince Rupert have gone through themselves, the sudden and unanticipated loss of a job and all the worries that come with it. They were a pair of columns that should  and no doubt did resonate with the many in this town (and those that have left it behind) that have been down that path and for those that may still have to follow the same road.

Both columns provided a great example as to what journalism should be, reflecting a current and or dramatic event and bringing the reader into the inner moments of it.

When a chapter of our lives comes to an end, you want to say that you went out offering the best you had to offer.

From her work this week and with her final piece printed on the front page of the final edition, she can certainly say that she had reached that benchmark.

Until we hear from her again, in whatever form she chooses to keep writing and on the off chance that Black Press should one day lose track of the Daily News archives, here for a review is her final article for the Daily News, something as they say for the scrapbooks.

Prince Rupert will miss Walter Smith 
By Monica Lamb-Yorski 
The Daily News 
Friday July 16, 2010
Page One

 Prince Rupert lost one of its biggest community boosters on July 13 with the passing of Walter Smith, 94.

However, as the stories unfold and people recall his legacy, the laughter will endure. Smith loved a good joke.

Smith’s family moved to Prince Rupert in 1906, his father Arthur and uncle Vernon were subcontractors for building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert.

They bought property along the way, often losing money. The empty lot beside Cook’s Jewellers on Third Avenue West once housed the Smith Block. And while they cut their losses in many ways they were a century ahead of themselves. In fact, they’d bought a ranch in Vanderhoof and planned to ship beef to China. A hundred years later, that’s a growing business.

Up until two weeks ago, Smith volunteered as a cruise ship ambassador, handing out pins and welcoming visitors at Prince Rupert’s waterfront. In his yellow and black jacket, covered with hundreds of pins from other places, he was hard to miss.

When his sons Craig and Steve went through his home yesterday they found drawers filled with Prince Rupert pins.

“The City’s budget for pins will go down a bit with dad gone,” Craig joked.

Mayor Jack Mussallem said Smith was always interested in the community and believed in the opportunity of tourism for Prince Rupert.

“Two Thursdays ago I had a good chat with him at one of the information booths while we were waiting for the cruise ship passengers to disembark,” Mussallem recalled.

In the last twenty years, former shoe storeowner Tony Ferreira developed a friendship with Smith.

The two men would go for coffee at Tim Hortons regularly, where Smith would share stories about being in WWII or getting caught in snowdrifts on the road from Kitimat to Terrace.

“He was a good man and was always kind,” commented Ferreira. “He’d always tell me I was an important person,” he added with a chuckle.

When John McNish moved to Prince Rupert with his family in 1958, Smith was one of the first people to welcome him to the city.

“He was always upbeat and had a great sense of humour. He was quite the practical joker,” McNish recalled. “Walter was in the Navy Reserve and then in the Canadian Navy and had a long attachment and was very proud of it. He also ran a successful Men’s Wear business for many years. He will be missed.”

After playing bingo at the Seniors Centre Wednesday, Joyce Leask recalled the kindness Smith showed her and her husband Alvin.

“Whenever we came over to Prince Rupert from Metlakatla, people would be really tied up at their businesses, but Walter was always kind and welcoming. We noticed people like him,” Leask said.

Ted Arney described Smith as “down to earth” and recalled seeing him on the East Coast during the war.

Arney was an ordinary seaman, while Smith was an officer. When Smith recognized Arney as a fellow Rupertite, he invited him for coffee. While he was unable to take him up on the offer, Arney always remembered the gesture.

Smith was the recipient of several awards, and most recently garnering Freedom of the City in December, recognizing his efforts as a community booster and dedication as a volunteer. A reception was held in his honour at the Museum of Northern B.C. along with other recipients of Civic Awards. 

“He was so humbled and proud of his service to the community,” said Smith’s daughter-in-law Tina Smith. “He was amazing.”

That humility and dedication were things Jack Payne also loved about him. “He was an example for the whole community,” said Payne. “His enthusiasm for life was remarkable. He was so alive, right to the end. He was lucid, positive and a good friend.”

One time Smith visited the Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives to have his memories recorded by historian Ken Campbell. After they had finished the taping session, Smith stopped to talk in the front hall with the Archives staff.

When he noticed an historical photograph of Salt Lakes, once Prince Rupert’s popular swimming hole across the harbour, he began to reminisce.

“We were over there staying at some cabins one time and some of the girls complained that us guys probably hadn’t brought our bathrobes with us,” Smith recalled.

As the story goes, when everyone went to bed, Smith snuck down and rowed across to Prince Rupert (hopefully in the moonlight). He walked up to his house, fetched his bathrobe and rowed back.

“In the morning when everyone got up, I was sitting outside in a lawn chair in my bathrobe and they were all pretty surprised,” he said, as he crossed his arms and leaned back as if it had happened yesterday.

That’s the thing Doug Kydd loved the most. The stories.

“A fifteen minute coffee would turn into two hours of listening to Walter. Maybe some of his memories were embellished, but they were great stories,” Kydd said.

Kydd figures if you were to look up the word “Rupert Booster” there should be a photograph alongside of it of Smith. “He was the community’s greatest cheerleader,” he added.

When writing his own resume in 1992, Smith said his first introduction to voluntary service was as a student representative for his classmates at King Edward High School. From there he became a boy scout and then a member of the Junior Elks, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Prince Rupert Swim Club, Anglican Young Peoples Group, Prince Rupert Badminton Club, Canadian Legion, Gyro Club, Chamber of Commerce, Curling Club, Prince Rupert Rotary, Prince Rupert Tourist Bureau, and the list goes on.

In October 2007, Tourism Prince Rupert CEO Bruce Wishart helped create the Walter Smith Visionary Award to recognize pioneers, and unsung heroes, of tourism in northern communities.

Smith was the first recipient of the award and at the award ceremony Wishart said, “Prince Rupert’s successful tourism industry has been the results of many people, but it would be difficult to find a single advancement in the past 70 years that did not in some way trace back to Walter Smith.”

“Now in his 90s, Walter is still a dynamic force in the Prince Rupert tourism industry. With the return of the cruise industry he became one of the first of Prince Rupert’s Volunteer Ambassadors, has seldom missed the arrival of a cruise ship, and has provided Prince Rupert pins and information to, by now, thousands of passengers.”

When his funeral takes place Saturday at Annunciation Church at 2 p.m. followed by a reception at the Crest Hotel, Wishart expects the day will be filled with stories about Smith.

“The thing that’s most amazing was the fact he was a guy who ran a couple of men’s stores, whose belief in the benefit of tourism was never self-serving. He did this because he believed in Prince Rupert and the North.”

Smith was a joy to work with, recalled Wishart. “It was his sense of humour that helped him build relationships and the reason he was recognized all the way to the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.” 

Sharing stories about their father Thursday morning, Steve and Craig laughed heartily.

One day Smith saw Prince Rupert Port Authority CEO Don Krusel chatting with two men in the lobby of the Crest Hotel. Seizing the opportunity, he walked over and handed each of them Prince Rupert’s totem pole pin.

He told them about the Haida, Gitsxan and Tsimshian people and where their territories were. As he finished telling them about the Haida warriors and their large canoes, he asked the men what part of China they were from. It turns out they were chiefs from Kitkatla and Hartley Bay, chuckled Steve. 

Their father loved cars and recently wanted to purchase a new one. The sons assumed he’d trade in his SUV, but in his mind that would remain his winter car.

The red Neon he purchased would be his summer vehicle.

After Sunday mass, a few days later, he took the car for a drive past the campground. He had the stereo blaring, and was travelling at 80 km in a 50-km zone.

An RCMP officer following behind in a car, put on the flashing lights, but Smith kept going. Then the officer put on the siren, but to no avail. Finally the officer drove alongside, forcing Smith off to the side of the road.

When questioned, Smith said he didn’t see the lights or hear the siren because he was fiddling with his stereo.

“And I couldn’t have been going 80, this is only a four cylinder,” he protested.

Two weeks later Steve got a call from Brian Musgrave at Rainbow Chrysler. Smith was there to purchase a blue Neon. He’d only had the red one for two weeks.

“I guess he figured the RCMP would be watching out for the red car and the blue one would give him another two weeks,” Steve said.

Smith experienced heart failure Tuesday and passed away surrounded by Steve and his grandchildren Christy, Shawn and Jeff.

For over a month he’d been saying he was ready to go and that he’d had a good life.

 He’d arrived at the hospital earlier by ambulance and if he’d had pins on him, said his family, he would have pinned them on the ambulance attendants.

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