June 17, 1936 – Jan. 22, 2019
One of the high points of Donald J. Smith's career as Niagara County Commissioner of Public Works happened in 1987, when he was part of a 45-member American delegation to a transportation conference in Beijing.
The three-week trip, for which he paid his own way, took place when China was poised to triple its highway network from just 11,000 miles. Roads were still dominated by pedestrians, bicycles and animal-drawn carts.
"I remember how pivotal that was for him," said his daughter, Sandy Smith. "It gave a really important sense of perspective to him in his work. And when he came back and was talking about all the infrastructure work that had to be done, it was kind of overwhelming."
Mr. Smith, who was Niagara County Commissioner of Public Works from 1977 to 1997, died Jan. 22, 2019, in Terrace View Long Term Care at Erie County Medical Center, where he had lived since being impaired by a stroke in August 2014. He was 82.
Mr. Smith was "such an unbelievably good sport for the last four years," said his daughter. He focused on "working hard at therapy, going to concerts and Bills and Sabres games with us, and being kind to everyone."
In fact, said his daughter, on the day he died, his room "was a revolving door of people from Terrace View, from facilities and maintenance employees to administrators" who came to say goodbye. One worker thanked Mr. Smith for being his friend, Sandy Smith said.
Mr. Smith was born in Buffalo on June 17, 1936, the first child of Alexander W. and Emily E. (Kuczkowski) Smith, and brother of Alexander, Carol and Ann. His father, an immigrant from South Africa, was an electrician on a Great Lakes freighter; his mother was a seamstress.
Mr. Smith graduated from Kenmore Senior High School and then from Clarkson College of Technology in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.
He was commissioned in the Army through ROTC at Clarkson in 1957, completed the Signal Corps Officer Basic Course in 1958 and served in the Engineer unit in the Reserve, which was activated during the Berlin Crisis.
In his Army career, Mr. Smith served as Staff Officer and then the Commander of the 300th Ordnance Battalion, and in several roles with the 969th Engineer Battalion, both in Tonawanda. He was formally trained at the U.S. Army Reserve General Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1980, Mr. Smith retired from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, remaining an active member of the Reserves.
He began working for the State Department of Transportation in 1957, holding several jobs.
In 1967, Mr. Smith married Kathryn Bradford. In 1974, they moved to Cayuga Island, Niagara Falls, where they raised their daughter and a son, Donald Jr.
From 1974 to 1977, Mr. Smith worked as Director of Public Works for the City of Niagara Falls. He was Niagara County Commissioner of Public Works from 1977 to 1997.
In 1998, he became interim head of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Committee for a year; from 1998 to 2011, he was vice president of Urban Engineers in Buffalo.
Mr. Smith was chairman of the Erie and Niagara Counties Regional Planning Board in 1985, and belonged to the New York State Association of Highway Engineers.
The Smiths were avid skiers, serving as members of the National Ski Patrol, which named him a senior patrolman in 1971. In 1973, the National Ski Patrol recognized him for an innovative procedure for chair lift evacuations.
The Smiths were also active in sailing with the Snipe Class International Racing Association and the Olcott Yacht Club. Their backyard was a skating rink in the winter, and Mr. Smith spent many hours coaching and supporting Donald Jr., who went on to play hockey at Clarkson University, and his friends.
Mr. Smith was a supporter of Nichols athletics and a season ticket-holder to the Bills and Sabres since they began.
Described by his daughter as a Renaissance man, Mr. Smith loved music and the arts, particularly the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, performances at Shea's, Artpark and the Burchfield Penney.
Later in life, he discovered a passion for woodworking and refinishing items from auctions. He also helped run the cooperative at the Sanborn General Store. He was devoted to his grandson and granddaughter.
Beside his wife of 51 years and his children and grandchildren, Mr. Smith is survived by one sister, Ann Paige, and many nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, in St. Amelia Catholic Church, 2999 Eggert Road, Tonawanda.