Dr. Robert Lyman Smith
He loved potatoes, apple pie, people, history, and gardening, beer, and laughing.
He was born in 1924, in Barney’s River, a suburb of Avondale, fourth of Clara and Walter Smith’s five children, in the house his father built for his mother. It was a moneyless farm, but there was always food to eat, and there was always a pump organ in the parlour. They were too poor to have dust bunnies under their beds, but he would go over to the neighbours, and play with theirs. He loved the comics, particularly the ones where Nailand Smith, and his incompetent sidekick Petrie, would defeat the intentions of Fu Manchu. His worst moments growing up were with his mother’s herd of turkeys, which would chase him around and around the yard. Perhaps this explains his chortling gleefully during Christmas dinner.
He graduated first in his high school class, because he was the only kid in his high school class.
World War 2 interrupted his fish canning career. He signed up in the Air Force, so he could fly, but they (and he) discovered he was blind as a bat, so they gave him glasses and taught him how to activate and deactivate bombs, and how to put them on planes. Then they put him in a boat hold and shipped him off to Eastern England. They also taught him to ride a bicycle, and fixed his teeth for him. He told me he had a pretty good war.
After World War 2, his brother, Buzz, took the government cash settlement and moved out west. Bob went to St. FX University, got his education, and became a doctor.
Somewhere in there he met Kaye Henderson. They married, doctored, nursed, and had four kids - two doctors and two teachers. They moved from Truro to Bedeque to Halifax to Winnipeg to Saint John, where they finally settled. 40 years went by quickly: the Carmarthen Street office practice, hospital rounds and weekends on call, reading journals, iris and poppy tending, reading more journals, and, occasionally, trying to make beets grow. Unsuccessfully. At least, that’s what Mrs. Cann says.
I can still hear him answering the phone on the weekends he was on call. He scared my friends a little, but he cared about his patients deeply. We were at the McAllister Place Mall a few years ago, 15 years after Dad had retired, and a woman came over and said,”Dr. Smith, you saved my baby!” And I remember his agitation about having to testify in court about child abuse. Perhaps gardening was a necessary release.
At 70, after 40 years of being Dr. Smith, he stopped and became Bob, volunteer art hanger and carpenter at large, garden club regular and museum tour guide. He and mom travelled the world, and his garden grew larger and richer. There was room for grandchildren and, eventually, a whole deer herd in his garden. It was his pride and joy, and watching it mature into a rich and evocative space was good for the soul. When the deer started eating the lilies, he gave them to me, and that was also good.
His last years were spent dealing with a series of strokes that left him less and less able to do the things he loved. But he still greeted every new trial as a challenge, and would work to overcome it. He and Mom continued living in the house, and having a life together, as long as possible. As he said to me over a beer on the back porch a couple of years ago, “I never had any real health problems until these strokes. I had a good run.” And he did. His legacy is two generations of babies who are healthier for having known him. His first patients in Saint John are in their sixties now, and his last patients would be in their twenties, but everyone is a little healthier - and some are alive - because they went down those five steps on 107B Carmarthen Street, sat next to the large cartoon characters painted on the wall, and rode the old hobby horse until the doctor could see them. He was a doctor, and he was my dad.
Robert is survived by his loving wife Kaye (Rocmaura Nursing Home), his four children, Vaughn (Frauke), Wendy (Kevin McNeil), Colin (Susan Galbraith), and Owen (Megan Edmonds), and his grandchildren, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Eli, Kaleb, Yulin, Samuel, and Jack along with three great grandchildren Daphne, Violet and Leo.
Robert didn’t want any ceremony, so we will be holding a time of celebration in the Fundy Funeral Home Reception Centre (230 Westmorland Road, 646-2424) on Sunday, September 9, 2018 from 2-4pm. For those who wish, donations made in memory of Bob to Mental Health Recovery Services, Romero House, Saint John Boys & Girls Club or to the charity of the donor’s choice would mean the world to him.
Romero House - Soup Kitchen
647-649 Brunswick Dr , Saint John, NB E2L 3S9,
Boys & Girls Club of Saint John Inc.
PO Box 2441, Saint John, NB E2L 3V9,
Contact: Amy Shanks
Mental Health Recovery Services
157 Duke Street, Saint John NB E2L 1N7