By JANET HEIM
3:18 PM EST, December 1, 2012
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Harry V. Smith, who died Nov. 15 at the age of 76. His obituary was published in the Nov. 16 edition of The Herald-Mail.
Harry Smith was a larger-than-life figure, both in physical presence and personality. He had a strong work ethic, stemming in part from a poor childhood, that he instilled in his three children.
“There were people in his life that took an interest in him. They made up for what he didn’t have at home,” daughter Sabrina Smith said.
The tragic death of his father when Harry was a senior in high school made him determined that his children would have a strong father figure.
Carolyn Key went on a blind date with Harry her senior year of high school and married him three months later, in part because she thought he would be a good father.
When “another guy” asked Carolyn who her dream guy was, she said at least 6 foot 2, two to four years older than she, with blue eyes.
“Harry fit the bill. But he liked children. That was the big thing,” said Carolyn, who is four years younger.
Their three children — Steven Smith of Jacksonville, Fla., Sabrina Smith of Arlington, Va., and Amy Farmer of Hagerstown — couldn’t agree more. There also are three grandchildren.
“He was a great dad,” Amy said. “Dad didn’t go to college and he wasn’t rich. He gave you what he could.
He didn’t have to be a man of stature to make a difference. He always knew what the need was. He always had an insight about people.”
“There are so many H.V. stories. Things just kind of happened to him,” Steven said, referring to his father’s name, Harry Victor.
When it came to naming their firstborn, Carolyn chose Steven Victor. Steven said his father was the only one who referred to him as “Stevie,” although he called him Steven in person.
“I’ll miss that,” Steven said.
Through Harry’s 31-year career with Maryland State Police, his officiating at high school and college basketball and softball games, and his community involvement, he was known far and wide.
More than 400 people attended Harry’s viewing and 125 were at his funeral, where all of the children and grandchildren spoke, read or sang. Harry liked “pomp and circumstance,” and would have enjoyed the police escort to his military burial site at Rocky Gap, his daughters said.
That network wasn’t always appreciated by his children.
“When I had my first slow dance in sixth grade, he already knew by the time I got home,” Sabrina said.
Harry often had been told during his childhood that he wouldn’t amount to anything and struggled throughout his life to overcome those feelings. He worked hard for everything he had, and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
“He said he wasn’t a smart man, which was a lie, but said he had his wits about him,” Sabrina said.
Harry began his six-month training at the police academy in January 1959 when Steven was about 6 months old. His weekend leaves were hindered by his inability to type because he had to stay and practice, Carolyn said.
While Harry was working as a road trooper, security duty at Fort Ritchie, Camp David and the Underground Pentagon, as a criminal investigator and at the Department of Corrections, Carolyn kept the homefront in order.
“I gave him to the Lord and said, ‘I’ll stay home and take care of the kids. I can’t worry about it,’” Carolyn said of the danger with Harry’s job.
His favorite job was criminal investigations.
“He could find evidence, but he couldn’t find his pants in the closet,” Carolyn said of her husband of 54 years.
Steven remembers Harry investigating an accident between a bread truck and a train, and using Steven’s toys to re-create the scene at home as he pieced together the evidence.
In 31 years, Harry fired his service revolver twice, but never shot at anyone, Carolyn said. Instead, he used his skills to talk people out of situations, Sabrina said.
Harry also could assume the role of “different characters,” once dressing like a college football scout and talking up Sabrina’s then-high school boyfriend to the other football scouts.
At times, it seemed like the Smiths had their roles reversed, with Carolyn the calm, structured presence and Harry the emotional one.
Their different personalities complemented each other and, at times, caused friction.
“I got rather independent because he was gone so much. He didn’t always like that,” Carolyn said. “His glass was half empty. My glass was half full.”
But Harry always was the protector.
“Until he died, I wasn’t afraid in the house with him,” Carolyn said. “I knew he’d go after them. He would forget about being sick.”
Harry liked cooking for the many organizations with which he was involved. Chili, vegetable soup, spaghetti sauce and sweet rolls were some of the foods he could make inexpensively in quantity.
He loved going to the grocery store and always was looking for a bargain, whether at the grocery store or at the mall.
Sabrina said she and her father always had a standing date for an early-morning Black Friday shopping trip, having already mapped out their game plan based on the sales. They then would have breakfast at the J&M Grill in Hagerstown and talk about their great finds, Sabrina said.
Amy said Harry would buy and collect commemorative coins and was influential in teaching good spending habits to his children, encouraging them to avoid debt and pay off their mortgages.
“We all need that little bit of Harry — loud, bold, aggressive,” Amy said. “He was a very deliberate parent. You could choose to take his advice, but you knew what his advice was.”
Harry was known for treating everyone the same. The one time he was asked to fill in for an official at one of Steven’s basketball games, he called a technical foul on his son.
Despite his anger over the call, Steven admitted his father was right.
“He was by far the best basketball coach I had,” Steven said. “He treated everyone fairly. He yelled at the officials, but never yelled at us.”
Education was important in the Smith family, and even though Harry didn’t go to college and Carolyn didn’t earn an associate degree until Amy was in high school, the children knew they were expected to go.
All three earned graduate degrees.
“Our success was his success,” Amy said.
Harry had health issues throughout his life, but always bounced back. Even as his health began to decline more than two years ago due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, they held out hope.
The decision was made to downsize from their Saint James home of 40 years — always a gathering place for friends and family — to one in South Pointe, a move that Harry didn’t live to make.
He died in Carolyn’s arms in the home they had shared for four decades.
“It brings back memories as I go through things,” Carolyn said. “Life is like chapters. This is a new chapter.”
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