Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Former City Administrator Bill Smith passes away

Bill Smith, a long time and legendary presence at City Hall, who was also a one time candidate for the Mayoralty of the City passed away over the weekend in Courtney on Vancouver Island.

The long time former City Administrator was 76, surrounded by his family at his time of passing.

Mr. Smith served as the City Administrator for Prince Rupert for over 25 years through two periods of time, from 1970-1980 when he became the youngest City Administrator in the province and again from 1986 until his retirement in the late 1990's, leaving his position as a highly acclaimed public official, a mentor to a large number of city staff members and considered by many Rupertites as perhaps the Mayor who got away.

It was during the City of Prince Rupert Municipal campaign of 1982 that Smith gave then Mayor Pete Lester perhaps his biggest political fight of his career, coming as close as anyone ever did to claiming the Mayoralty from Lester, the iconic political force on the North Coast who set the benchmark for political longevity.

Such was the respect that Smith had in the community, that following his defeat of 82,  he was invited by Lester to return to City Hall four years later to resume the duties as City Administrator. Returning to the position that he had stepped aside from when had been elected to serve a term on Council before his quest for the mayoralty.

However, while politics may have tempted him from time to time, it was in the realm of his administrative duties at City Hall where he made his name in the community, the steady hand on the tiller of local government in the region.

Considered by many as the guy to go to for anything city related and of course through his longevity in office, the one Rupertite who was perhaps the most plugged into the city's political scene.

Mr. Smith handled the affairs of the city through some of the most prosperous times of the city's history. Part of the team that worked with Mayor Lester and his many Councillors on some of the city's biggest issues through those years of growth.

Outlasting his one time political rival, (albeit a friendly rivalry) at City Hall, Mr. Smith continued to provide steady guidance in his position as a new generation of Rupert leaders took office. His counsel more valued than ever, as storm clouds started to gather over the city's economic base, as he helped to steer the city through a few controversial years in the 1990's.

In 1997 Smith found himself the centre of much media attention during the summer  of that year, as events escalated as part of the blockade of the Alaska Ferry Malaspina, he fielded calls from a number of US media outlets, this item from Seattle, just one of many items that can be found from that contentious summer.

Not many residents of Prince Rupert can claim the status of being quoted in the New York Times, but during the heat of that controversy in 1997, Mr. Smith offered up some wise counsel through the largest Newspaper in America, offering reassurance for Americans concerned about any travel plans to Prince Rupert.

''We've been getting all kinds of messages from people concerned about their safety, people wondering if they should change their American license plates to avoid trouble once they get here,'' said Bill Smith, the city manager of Prince Rupert. ''We have so much in common, it just doesn't make any sense to be hammering at each other like this.''

The quote captures the common sense and level headed approach that many in Prince Rupert appreciated from Mr. Smith, celebrated as a genuinely nice gentleman Someone who was rarely riled and always offered a balanced opinion, showing an acute ability to see things as they were, not as they might be hoped for.

Following his time with the City, the Deputy Premier Dan Miller announced Mr. Smith's appointment to the Board of BC Rail where he served until 1999.

During the announcement of his appointment, Mr. Miller, who was quite familiar with the former City Administrator from his time in Prince Rupert, heralded the experience he brought to the BC Rail position.

"Bill Smith brings a broad range of experience having worked both in the private and public sectors," ... "At the same time, Mr. Smith's extensive knowledge of issues facing northern communities will be a valuable asset to the board of BC Rail. I am confident he, together with the remaining board members, will continue to provide the strategic leadership vital to the strengthening performance we have seen from BC Rail over the past number of years."

A short obituary for Mr. Smith appears on the Northern View website, those that wish to remember him can make a donation to help support Prostate Cancer research and awareness through Smith.

Residents of the North Coast can share their memories of Mr. Smith through the Guest book of the Piercey's-Mount Washington Funeral Home website.

Mayor Lee Brain noted the passing of Mr. Smith on Tuesday afternoon, with City Hall lowering the flag to half mast in his memory.

“The City of Prince Rupert will be forever grateful for the long-time service of Mr. Smith, and the legacy that he left our community,” ... “We offer our sincere condolences to his family.”

The City of Prince Rupert also provided a testimony to his time at City hall with this tribute posted to the City website on Tuesday.

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