Nova Scotia

Former health minister Jim Smith remembered as kind, caring person

Doctor-turned-politician Jim Smith, one of only six Liberals to win a seat in 1984, had a political career that spanned 19 years and included five major cabinet posts. He died this weekend.

Smith, who died this weekend, represented Dartmouth East in the Nova Scotia Legislature for 19 years

Jim Smith spent nearly two decades as a member of the Nova Scotia Legislature with the Liberals, holding major portfolios in the John Savage government. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Dr. Jim Smith, a physician-turned-politician who held key cabinet portfolios including minister of health under the Nova Scotia Liberal governments of the 1990s, has died at the age of 84.

Smith carried the compassion and dedication he honed as a family physician into politics, according to former Premier Russell MacLellan.

"He cared and he worked until he found a way of getting things done," MacLellan said in a telephone interview from his home in Ingonish, N.S. "And he didn't make a lot of fuss about it."

Smith died this weekend, according to friends.

"He was a marvellous individual," MacLellan said. "A gentleman to the core."

Premier Stephen McNeil echoed that sentiment in an email to Liberal Party supporters Monday.

"His family has lost a husband, father and grandfather," wrote McNeil. "Nova Scotians have lost a kind and compassionate gentleman.

"On a personal note, I am grateful for his guidance in my early years in Opposition and for his continued support for the last 12+ years."

Two decades in politics

One of only six Liberals to win in the 1984 election, John Buchanan's largest of four PC majorities, Smith's introduction to Nova Scotia politics was as an opposition member.

He sat on the opposition side of the House for the first of his almost two decades at the legislature as the representative of Dartmouth East.

When the Liberals took power under John Savage's leadership, Smith was assigned his first major cabinet portfolio, minister of community services. He later took over the job of minister of housing and municipal affairs.

But it was during the MacLellan years that Smith got his most challenging jobs, heading the Health Department and briefly carrying on the duties of justice minister.

When the Liberals lost government in 1999, Smith was named caucus chair, a position he held until he left politics in 2003.

'Everyone that he met loved him'

In 2000, Smith joined the medical research firm MedMira, a Halifax-based company best known for its HIV test kits. 

Company CEO Hermes Chan said he and Smith travelled throughout the world marketing the kit and other MedMira products.

"Everyone that he met loved him," Chan said of his one-time vice-president of communications.

That affection was shared by company employees, according to Chan. 

"Internally, our staff called him uncle Jim," Chan said. "He was a very likable guy but he's also [a man of] principle.

"If he believed, he believed till the end."

Smith retired from the company and stepped down from MedMira's board of directors in 2011.