“I’m grateful for that,” said Cooke about that final conversation.
“He seemed to be in a good place about his legacy, especially around the Boat People. He reflected on his career, his faith. He loved serving. He was as proud of his political career as his leadership in the church.”
Smith also co-founded in 1963 with former alderman Bill McCulloch the Sir John A. Macdonald Society, which marks the January 11 birthday of Canada’s first prime minister every year.
Smith had a reputation as a gentlemen, who might have appeared out of step with the rough world of politics.
He once served as president of the Canadian Bible Association.
But Lincoln Alexander called him a politician’s politician and The Spectator referred to him as “an occasional maverick.”
He was the only member of the PC government to vote against its proposal for a seven per cent energy tax in 1973 (the proposal was eventually scrapped). He also voted with the opposition in 1973 over his government’s plan to appoint the new Hamilton-Wentworth regional chair, rather than an election at large.
And in 1972 he organized a fight against the PC party’s plan to charge a $40 registration fee to delegates attending the annual general meeting.
His honesty might have made Premier Bill Davis demote him in a 1977 cabinet shuffle.
During his time as corrections minister, Smith created controversy when he gave two speeches: One was about mandatory teen identifications and fines for lax parents. The other involved having prisoners undergo regular Bible readings.
“He was a man of utmost integrity, supremely honest, nothing pretentious about him whatever,” said Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson, who was Smith’s wardmate between 1988-1990 when they served as aldermen for the old Ward 6.
“Possibly, he was small in stature, physically, but he was a giant in terms of the revered manner that he carried and that people viewed him by on the east Mountain and other parts of the city.”
Cooke, a former Ward 1 alderman, called Smith principled, but also noted he could “be quite aggressive.” He recalled Smith berated Halton officials when they came to Hamilton to ask about taking its garbage.
“John said, ‘You take your garbage and shove it up Guelph Line,” said Cooke, laughing.
Smith was the son of Hector and Mildred Smith. His father was a manager at D’Allaird’s, a ladies-wear chain.
He started as an elementary school teacher after graduating from the Hamilton Teachers College.
He was encouraged to enter politics by Ada Pritchard, one of the first women elected to Hamilton council in the 1950s. She was later a PC MPP.
Smith joined the Hamilton Parks Board in January, 1964, eight months before he ran for council.
He stayed connected with the PCs and backed Patrick Brown in 2015 for the leadership. He ran unsuccessfully for the federal PCs in Hamilton Mountain in the 1997 and 2000 federal elections.
Smith leaves his wife Judy, a daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.
905-526-3351 | @dandundas
905-526-3351 | @dandundas