Calgary loses icon Arthur Smith

Arthur Smith, the war hero, entrepreneur and former politician known as Mr. Calgary, died early Monday at age 89.
Seen here in September 2004, Arthur Smith led a campaign to erect a memorial to Alberta airmen lost in the Second World War. ((Mike Vernon/CBC))

Arthur Smith, a war hero, entrepreneur and former politician known as Mr. Calgary, died Monday at age 89.

Smith, who had been battling cancer, took a turn for the worse on the weekend and died early in the morning with his wife at his side, said John Melbourne, national president of the Air Force Association of Canada.

"He was a great Canadian, no question, because he did contribute so much to this country," said Melbourne. "And most important to me, he was a very good friend."

His family has requested a private funeral, but Melbourne is working on a celebration of Smith's life sometime next week at the SAIT Art Smith Aero Centre of Training and Technology.

Born and educated in Calgary, Smith served overseas during the Second World War as a bomber command pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Arthur Smith was invested as an officer to the Order of Canada by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in 2003. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

After working in the oilpatch, Smith began his life in public service, leading many to refer to him as Mr. Calgary, a title he never quite embraced.

Smith was a city alderman, Alberta MLA, and three-time member of Parliament, and was instrumental in establishing the Calgary Economic Development Authority in 1981 and Calgary Homeless Foundation in 1998.

"Arthur Smith was equal parts visionary, but he was also a guy when something needed to get done, got it done and we're seeing the benefit of that today," said Tim Richter, the foundation's president and CEO.

"Anything we are able to accomplish in the 10-year plan to end homelessness draws directly from Arthur Smith. He recognized the need. He took action 10 years ago."

Smith also led a campaign to erect a memorial to fallen Alberta airmen from the Second World War, and was on hand to proudly unveil a statue at the McDougall Centre in the fall of 2004.

Politicians say Smith set example

A longtime Conservative, Smith mentored many Tory politicians and famously told former Alberta premier Ralph Klein it was time to leave politics in 2004.

"Art's contributions to the city and province he loved would normally have taken several lifetimes to achieve, and will live in our memories for generations to come," said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach in a statement issued from Jackson Hole, Wyo. where he's meeting with U.S. western governors.

"He was a cherished voice of wisdom and reason for me, both before and after I became premier, and for that I am eternally thankful."

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier, who met Smith 17 years ago, said the man known for speaking frankly set an example for others.

"Art Smith was really what Calgary was all about, about being active in business, politics and most importantly in his community," he said.

Bronconnier recalled meeting with Smith about a month ago to talk about what the city could to support the military, even though he was still fighting cancer.

"And that was Art Smith — not worrying about himself, but worrying about others," said the mayor.

Smith was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2003.

In January, 4 Wing Cold Lake named Smith its first and only honorary colonel.