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W. Merle Smith Jr., developer, civic activist
May 30, 1929 -- Dec. 20, 2006

A memorial service for W. Merle Smith Jr. of Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont., who helped develop thousands of low-cost homes here and around the nation, will be at 2 p.m. Saturday in Forest Lawn Chapel.

Mr. Smith died Dec. 20 in Millard Fillmore Hospital after a brief illness. He was 77.

A social entrepreneur, Mr. Smith brought together developers and officials to create attractive, affordable housing across New York State and in Massachusetts and Oregon, many for low-income elderly. His projects locally included McCarley Gardens, God City and St. John Towers.

He got his start in housing while working as legislative assistant to then-Delaware Council Member William B. Hoyt. In 1973, he became assistant director of the Housing Council of the Niagara Frontier, then established his own consulting firm. He represented Belmont Shelter Corp. on numerous local housing developments and continued working until he became ill last February.

Born in Rochester, Mr. Smith came to Buffalo with his family as a child. He attended Nichols School and was a 1948 graduate of the Park School. After attending Middlebury College, he earned a degree in business administration from the University of Buffalo. At UB, he set a record for the javelin.

In high school and college, he was a member of the Buffalo Skating Club and won many competitions. In 1953, he placed fourth in the nation for pair dance skating.

After college, he worked for Van Raalte as a sales representative for women's apparel in the Western states, based in Denver. Returning to Buffalo, he joined Mutual of New York Insurance, where his father worked.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Smith founded Star Point, which manufactured stained-glass items on Leddy Street, then moved to Essex Street, where he became an artist in residence at the Essex Art Center in the early 1970s, specializing in stained-glass work. He served as president of the Ashford Hollow Foundation.

A civic activist and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, he was prominent in the movement to gain more funding for the Buffalo schools in the 1970s as a leader of Citizens for Better Education and was a supporter of desegregation and the magnet school program. He also was an environmentalist and conservationist.

He was one of the dedicated bicyclists who fostered the establishment of bike routes in Buffalo and the Riverwalk along the Niagara River. He was a member of the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club, regularly did double-century (200-mile) rides and took his family on bicycle vacations in the Rockies.

A longtime resident of Allentown, he was a supporter of the arts community there.

Surviving are his wife of 25 years, the former Ruby Beicke; a son, Clay; two daughters, Robin and Megan; two stepsons, Daniel Boles and Matt Boles; a stepdaughter, Linda Boles; a brother, Clay D.; and a sister, Jean Howland.


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