It’s difficult to envision an Ottawa without the whirlwind of goodness and generosity that was Dave Smith.
The philanthropist and businessman passed away today, as announced by the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, which he founded in 1993. He was 87. He was one of those people, who knew everyone in the city, but always managed to make you feel special.
Smith was a bundle of energy every time you ran into him, which was frequently since he was everywhere, dishing up food at any number of charity events, auctioneering and just about any other event he could help the community.
But he found his real passion when he founded the Youth Treatment Centre.
In 2001, Smith, along with CJOH news director Max Keeping and Newport owner Moe Atallah were recognized as Ottawa’s three angels – in honour of the countless causes they supported. I attended that event – and it was truly inspiring to see the three of them in the same room – three people who selflessly devoted so much of their time and energy to making our city, this city, a better place for the rest of us.
With Smith’s passing, Atallah is the last remaining angel. When On the City, From the Burbs contacted him, the news left him shaken.
“I am so shocked, oh my God, I had no idea. What a big loss for all of us Sue. That’s incredible. I was talking today about Max, and then (Dave) came right into the picture and now I’m the only one left. The last time, he was slowing down, I saw him about three or four months ago at Costco, what a sweet, sweet person. I was so honoured in saying I was one of the three angels. I never felt I belonged up there with them, with Max and Dave.” (For the record, he absolutely does.)
“I always felt so blessed to say I know them, and I walk in their road. My God, you know, I’m shocked, I’m at a loss to know what to say,” Atallah told On the City, From the Burbs.
Former mayor Jackie Holzman recently had lunch with Smith, along with fellow former mayor Jim Durrell – something the three of them did often.
“He was one of the finest big-hearted men in this city, just a great supporter of anything. When Jim Durrell and I would go out for lunch with him, we always reminisced.” He changed lives, he changed so many lives. It’s quite a loss,” she said.
Former city councillor and now head of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Alex Munter was also moved by Smith’s death.
“Talk about somebody who had presence! A booming infectious laugh, warm handshake and hug, mischievous twinkle in his eye. Impossible not to be drawn to his charisma and warmth. I’m sitting here, smiling, just thinking about all the joy he radiated. Of course the addictions treatment centre that bears his name is the most obvious legacy of his philanthropy but he was literally everywhere for decades, raising money helping community causes. He and Max Keeping were probably the only two people in town who’ve attended more community events than Jim Watson. He had a real bent for social justice. In addition to supporting many social service organizations that help people who are struggling, he was also an early supporter of the LGBT rights movement. He frequently contributed his talents – as a chef, auctioneer, event planner – to groups like EGALE Canada that were fighting to eliminate discriminatory laws. ‘It’s time,’ he once told me about changing those laws’.”
Like so many of us, former Ottawa city clerk Pierre Page got to know Smith over the years from the good work the philanthropist did. One time Page had to put on a reception in Alabama for the International Institution of Municipal Clerks. But Page couldn’t find a local caterer. So yes, in stepped Smith, who drove his Winnebago down to Alabama and catered the event!
“He was just like that. And if ever you needed a laugh, you’d go sit with Dave. I went into his place one time, the Place Next Store on Rideau, it was around Christmas and he was singing away. I asked him what he was doing, saying he was Jewish. Smith’s response? ‘Not at Christmas time!’ He was down to earth, there was just no pretension, such a nice guy, and what he gave to this community was just incredible.”
Among his honours was being named to the Order of Canada and being given the Key to the City by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.