Donald Smith, 62, son of the late Seattle City Councilmember Sam Smith, worked at Paccar for 40 years and gave back to his community by mentoring young African Americans. He died at his South Seattle home on March 1.
Growing up the son of an influential Washington state representative and Seattle City Council member, Donald C. Smith knew what it meant to have a role model. While he didn’t go into politics like his father, Sam Smith — the state legislator who became the first black City Council member in Seattle — he spent his adult life working for a local company and giving back to his community by mentoring young African Americans.
“It was his way of still continuing his dad’s legacy … his way of staying connected to the community,” said Sarah Smith, his wife of 40 years.
Mr. Smith died in his South Seattle home on March 1, after battling cancer for two years. He was 62.
He grew up in Seattle and graduated from Garfield High School in 1970. He and his twin brother, Ronald, attended Dartmouth College. While there, they earned their degrees, played football and helped found Dartmouth’s Theta Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha — the college’s African-American fraternity.
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Returning to Seattle in 1974, Mr. Smith began a job at Bellevue-based Paccar and married his high-school sweetheart. With a degree in computer science, he eventually became the applications manager in the IT department of Paccar Financial, the truck maker’s financing arm. He worked for the company for 40 years, until he became too ill.
Known by children in the Central District and South Seattle as “Pops,” Mr. Smith was a father figure to everyone who he thought needed a little extra encouragement.
“I had a rough upbringing, and he was pretty much a father to me,” said David Washington, now 34. He lived with the Smith family for a few months on and off when he was 16 and 17 years old, then permanently when he was 18 and 19.
“When times got rough, he always opened the door … he changed my life, my attitude and my way of thinking,” Washington said.
Washington was not the only child to stay with Mr. Smith. When Mr. Smith’s own two children were in middle school and high school, between 10 and 15 other children stayed with the Smith family.
“Young people in the area didn’t have the resources that my dad had growing up,” said his son, Clayton Smith, 34. “He wanted to give back to the kids that didn’t have that stability in their lives.”
Mr. Smith grew up knowing he had resources available to him that many didn’t. His brother Carl Smith said all of Sam Smith’s children grew up with the same credo as the Joseph Kennedy family, that “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Mr. Smith’s philosophy was that a responsible adult should always do something to help the community, and doing everything he could to be available for children when they needed it, “that was Donald’s way of helping the community,” his brother said.
Education was always a priority. When children were staying at Mr. Smith’s house, they had to attend school.
“He didn’t try to change who these kids were,” Carl Smith said. “They were just required to show an effort.”
Like he did with many other young people, Mr. Smith helped Washington get into college — Shasta College in Redding, Calif. — and Mr. Smith even drove him there when it was time to start.
While Washington did not graduate, and for a while feared he may have disappointed Mr. Smith, he went on to start his own business and kept in touch with “Pops,” calling him three or four times a month, until his death.
The rest of the children in the community kept in touch, too.
Mr. Smith’s daughter, Shasta, said every Father’s Day, the phone never stopped ringing.
After his kids were grown, Mr. Smith began volunteering with Black Achievers, a program the YMCA of Greater Seattle established in 1989.
But it wasn’t just outside his work that he went out of his way to make time for people.
During Mr. Smith’s 40 years at Paccar, his co-worker of 30 years, Debbie Schooling, said she couldn’t think of a time when he wasn’t mentoring or helping someone. And when young people joined the company, Mr. Smith would take them under his wing and teach them how to be successful.
“He took the time … he invested in people,” Schooling said. “Warren Buffett invests in companies … Don invested in people. It was just his selfless way.”
In addition to his wife, two children and brother, Mr. Smith is survived by his sister, Amelia Smith, and granddaughter, Savannah. He was preceded in death by parents Sam and Marion, and his brothers Stephen, Ronald and Anthony.
A memorial service will be held March 14 at 11 a.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church.