Nova Scotia

Wade Smith, admired Halifax educator and coach, dies

The principal of Citadel High School was a basketball star in high school and university who became an educator and passionate advocate for Africentric education. Smith, who had been battling stomach cancer, died Friday.

The principal of Citadel High School died Friday at age 50 after a short battle with stomach cancer

Wade Smith was principal at Citadel High School in Halifax. (CBC)

A beloved Halifax educator, coach and mentor has died after a battle with stomach cancer.

Wade Smith passed away Friday evening at the age of 50.

The principal of Citadel High School was a basketball star in high school and at St. Francis Xavier University who became an educator and passionate advocate for Africentric education.

Smith was diagnosed with cancer seven weeks ago, said Augy Jones, one of Smith's close friends.

"It's a real blow to the community in its suddenness," Jones said. "He was ready to fight it.

"He was obviously scared and frightened, but he was also very positive."

50th birthday party

A large birthday party was held for Smith at Citadel High School on May 6, Jones said. Smith didn't turn 50 until May 14, but the party was held early, as Smith was about to start chemotherapy.

"When he got up to talk he said he's not dying with cancer, he said he's living with cancer," Jones said. "And that's pretty much how he went about it."

Jones said he first met Smith at a basketball camp at the the YMCA in Halifax's north end when he was six and Smith was seven. The two quickly became friends and played basketball together from the bantam leagues right through to the national level. They also both became teachers and coaches.

Smith was a coach and mentor to many young people. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Smith's balanced, even-keeled personality was a good fit for his profession, Jones said.

"He could be in a situation where someone — whether it be a parent, or a student, or a teacher — was highly agitated, and he would be able to not only bring them to a level of understanding, but really have them leave the room thinking, 'Wow this guy really listened to me.'"

'Amazing' to see 

Smith's brother Craig said the community's response to the news of Smith's death has been a great support to the family, including his wife and two sons.

"Within moments of people learning that he had passed, all of our cellphones were kind of being blown up," Craig said. "It's been quite amazing just to see how many lives he's touched."

Craig said Smith's wife, Sherry Jackson-Smith, has been a "pillar of support" since Smith's diagnosis.

"They were the love of each other's lives. She was with him every step of the way and supported him in every way and was protective of her husband and made sure that he had every comfort that could be afforded him."

Dreamed of Africentric school

Smith briefly made news headlines about 10 years ago when he said the school system was failing black students and that there was a need for an Africentric school.

"For a short period of time there, the guy was vilified for it," Craig said. "He was somebody who taught in the system, who knew the in-depth pieces of the system and where it was failing."

Smith's vision never fully came to fruition, but Craig said implementing something like an Africentric school would be a way to honour Smith.

"When we talk about the inner city youth ... and how they've struggled with the education system, they need to be supported. So it's up to us, those of us that are left behind, to pick up that mantle and try to put some mechanisms in place to provide that support and carry on Wade's legacy."

Basketball player, coach

Smith received the 2017 Sport Nova Scotia Chair Award on May 29 for an "extraordinary contribution" to sport in the province.

Friday Basketball Nova Scotia released a statement praising Smith's contribution to the sport and his influence on young players.

"Wade cannot be replaced. As a player his accomplishments on the AUS, CIS and international stage were impressive and his legacy as mentor, leader, coach and educator will resonate within the basketball community forever," it said.

"We take heart in knowing that many of the players and coaches whose lives Wade touched so deeply, warmly and personally will rise to try and fill his sneakers."

Citadel High School principal Wade Smith died on Friday, June 2 at the age of 50. (Facebook)

'Uncle Smiss'

Days before Wade Smith's death, Halifax councillor Lindell Smith remembered his own encounters with "Uncle Smiss" at St. Patrick's High School.

"He would see me in the halls and would pull me [aside] and tell me to 'Keep it tight, stay smooth,'" Coun. Smith posted on Facebook.

"Really what he was telling me was make sure I stay on track and stay focused, but have fun while you do it."

'Giving back was never a choice'

During a speech at Mount Saint Vincent University in March, Smith spoke about the importance of having mentors and being a mentor to others.

"Giving back was never a choice in my life. Giving back was an obligation — to my community, to young kids coming up after me," he said.

"I try to tell young people that you can make yourself extraordinary by doing the ordinary because if you're extraordinary to someone, that's enough. Famous people were once ordinary — they just believed in something.

So figure it out. For young people, I say figure out what you believe in and then when you're done, you can do something."

With files from Shaina Luck, Ruth Davenport