Michael Smith died of COVID-19. This is why his family wants you to know his story
Michael Smith, 90, was well known on the North Shore as a teacher, coach, athlete and family man
Michael Smith wasn't movie-star famous, but his career as a teacher and coach made him so recognizable on the North Shore that former students spotted him frequently and called out, 'Mr. Smith!'
His widow, Nancy Smith, says he was even recognized once on the Tube in London, England.
"It was a couple of girls from the women's rugby team," she said, laughing. "We'd never been in England before."
Smith, 90, found joy in everything and everyone from rugby to theatre and teammates to choirmates.
He died April 2 after contracting COVID-19 at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.
Smith was born in Vancouver and attended Kitsilano Secondary School, excelling academically, in musical theatre and sports.
He went on to the University of British Columbia where he competed in rugby, football and swimming and spent his summers working overseas on a whaling ship.
His daughter, Megan Frederick, says her questions about the stormy seas off Japan's coast were usually steered toward Smith's softball team at the whaling station.
"Nobody could beat them," Frederick said. "I never really did hear much about whaling."
In 1956, Smith married Marlene Wright, had three children and became a teacher, coach and vice-principal in West Vancouver, living up to his strict-but-fair reputation in the classroom and living room.
"He ran the house like a coach and they called him the General," Frederick said.
"He'd sign his cards to my mom, 'Love, the General.'"
Mike and Marlene, who passed away in 1991, made their home a gathering place for friends before and after sports tournaments and concerts.
Mike ran marathons, took rugby teams to tournaments all over the world, sang in a choir and put on school plays and musicals.
He took his dog Sadie on runs over the Lions Gate Bridge to Stanley Park, where he'd stop to watch a rugby match and then run home.
Frederick says he'd often carry Sadie home for much of the return trip.
"Sadie weighed about 12 pounds, but dad would come home after carrying her, talking about how she weighed a hundred pounds," Frederick said.
"I was like 'Dad, you can always hop on a bus.' "
Megan and Nancy say Mike took Sadie everywhere long before pets were allowed in places like banks and liquor stores. He even smuggled Sadie into a play once, where she growled occasionally, confusing actors and ushers who couldn't see her in the dark.
Nancy's face lights up when she mentions the 25 years she was married to Michael, whom she met when he coached her son's basketball team and fell in love with years later when a neighbour reintroduced them.
"He was a lovely husband," she said.
Smith continued long-distance running well into his 80s, but in his later years was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which can affect a person's thinking, movement, behaviour and mood.
He suffered a fall and wound up in Lions Gate Hospital where he contracted COVID-19.
"I know it sounds funny to say about a 90-year-old man, but you're shocked that he died," Nancy said.
"Mike was so full of life all the time, so enthusiastic to the end."
Instead of talking about what Nancy calls 'the dark days' leading up to Smith's death, she prefers to discuss Sadie the dog, Smith's love of rugby shirts and shorts (even on fancy occasions) and the elaborate sand castles he built with his grandchildren.
They're stories that didn't quite make her husband famous, but he was certainly well known on the North Shore and was admired as something far more important than a celebrity.
He was a teacher and coach who preached discipline in the classroom and sportsmanship on the pitch, even in a rough game like rugby.
He was a no-nonsense dad who melted when he walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
He was a loving husband. He was the General. He was Mr. Smith.
To hear Michael Smith's family remember his life on CBC's The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:
CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at email@example.com.
With files from Paisley Woodward