End-of-transmission for the communications officer

(Photograph by Lonnie Wishart)

I’ve talked about Walter Smith’s accomplishments in tourism many times, in print and at public events, beginning back when Tourism Prince Rupert created the Walter Smith Visionary Award in 2007. I will continue to speak about him each year that I present the Walter Smith Visionary Award. What he did for tourism, for this community, and for northern BC, over what was ultimately a 74-year part of his 94-year life, defies belief.

He was recognized for it. Because Prince Rupert always came first for Walter, being awarded the Freedom of the City was certainly his proudest moment – but that was just one of several impressive recognitions stretching all the way up to the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.

I tend to focus, naturally, on his involvement in tourism – but Walter was multi-faceted. It’s hard to keep track of it all. Something else occurs to me and I think, “Oh, yeah, he did that, too.” Big things. Such as when, during the service at Annunciation, I was reminded of his deep, lifelong devotion to his church community. Or, as Peter Witherly played the Last Post, how I powerfully felt the significance of this veteran who served from before the beginning until after the end of the Second World War. For a Canadian of my generation, one of the sons and daughters of the veterans, that tugs at emotion lying at the very core of my being.

Walter was selfless when it came to promoting Prince Rupert and the north. He was never in it for himself. Tourists don’t tend to flock to mens’ wear stores. Walter just believed that tourism was good for Prince Rupert, and it fit naturally with his larger-than-life pride in this community. He threw himself into any opportunity to build Prince Rupert’s reputation, whether it was a big, important initiative or a tiny moment of kindness that would pass unnoticed by any but the recipient. Fifty years ago he and Polly Sergeant drove through the creation of ‘Ksan Historical Village, showing that they understood the future of BC’s competitive advantage in promoting aboriginal tourism. Or he simply intercepted some stranger, in some far-flung corner of the world, giving a polite Canadian hello and presenting them with one of his mysteriously endless supply of Prince Rupert pins. During the war he was a Navy communications officer. For the rest of his life he was our communications officer.

Whether it was a big thing or a small thing, Walter’s approach was damned effective. And damned simple. He liked people, and people liked him. He was fun to be around, and he made you laugh. That transcends most human barriers. It was just as effective on the provincial Minister of Highways as it was on the cruise ship passenger stepping off the ship to spend a few hours exploring Prince Rupert.

That’s why everybody in Prince Rupert associates the name Walter Smith with at least one story. Even at his service it felt, to me, less like the sad end of anything than like the crescendo of a thousand funny stories all told at the same time. He was one of those rare few. He really will be remembered. Years from now, when his name comes up around town, somebody will surely say, “Oh, my God, have I got a story to tell you.”

That’s the thing about him. And he had a way of cheerfully pouring his soul into projects he believed in, no matter how small they might seem to others, and doggedly pursued his goals with astonishing energy. And he was so very important, in so many ways, but he was never self-important.

Cheers, Walter. I miss you already. But wherever you are now, I’m pretty sure you’ve already gotten more than a few good laughs.

(First published in THE NORTHERN VIEW, July 21, 2010)

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  1. By Bruce Wishart ~ Poor Michael on July 20, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    [...] Solid Gold Box « End-of-transmission for the communications officer [...]

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Bruce Wishart
Whimsies. Sometimes about writing.
Sometimes about folklore. Sometimes
about the sea, or life on the coast.
And sometimes not.