Husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, oil industry engineer, amateur musician extraordinaire. Born June 7, 1931, in Liverpool, N.S.; died Oct. 26, 2013, in Liverpool, of complications from lung disease, aged 82.
Don Smith had a love of music and a relentless determination to share that joy from his boyhood days with the Liverpool High School Cadet Band until a few weeks before he died, when he sat in for a final time with the Legion Swing Band at Mahone Bay, N.S.
All through the spring and summer, he was on hand playing saxophone for dances and bandstand concerts, concealing the illness he knew would not likely have a favourable outcome. As always, he was ready to play trumpet, trombone, saxophone – just about any horn that was needed.
Up and down the South Shore, Don performed with concert bands, swing bands, small combos and classical ensembles. He entertained at hospital fund-raisers and church concerts, and paid tribute to war veterans and volunteer fire fighters in Remembrance Day and Fire Prevention Week parades.
Bad weather didn’t deter him. When he was nearly 80, he donned an outer “coat” of long underwear (dyed red) and a Santa Claus hat on a cold December day to march in a Shelburne Christmas parade. When much younger players cancelled, he played on a Mahone Bay Wooden Boat Festival float when it was raining so hard you could barely see the sheet music.
Don was the only son of Liberal Senator Don Smith and his wife, Florence Morton, and although he grew up in a political family, he had no interest in politics. But he had strong opinions and didn’t hesitate to voice them (his e-mail pseudonym was “Grumpy Don.” If a concert program was too easy or too difficult to master, he let it be known. If a young player turned up for a parade out of uniform, he would be told to go home and change or forgo the march. When he returned, Don would kindly help the fledgling musician in any way he could.
As is true of many amateur musicians, Don was always looking for just right mix of accomplishment and playing just for the fun of it. He would play a few years with the Bridgewater Fire Department Band and then arrive at the Mahone Bay Legion Hall grumbling: “They’re turning themselves into the Boston Pops.” Then, after playing a few years with the legion band, he’d leave muttering: “You play the same old stuff – no challenge,” and rejoin the fire fighters.
In 2009, Don found a new and exciting focus when the Legion Band began specializing in old-fashioned, big-band swing. He said it was his best gig ever.
While music was his passion, applied science was his career. Don’s résumé tells the story of one of the early players in Canada’s oil industry. In 1959, with degrees in science (Dalhousie University) and engineering (McGill University), he went to work for Irving Oil, which was soon to build its Saint John refinery. Later he worked at Imperial’s head office in Toronto. He moved to Fort McMurray, Alta., in 1977, the year before Syncrude Canada Ltd. began operating in the oil sands. He spent 14 years on the Syncrude project, which went on to become one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic crude.
Don retired at 60 and returned home to Liverpool. Throughout his career and retirement years, family and friends were paramount to Don. He leaves his wife, Mary, five children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was predeceased his first wife, Barbara, and son Peter.
John Cunningham is a long-time friend of Don’s and fellow bandsman.