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It’s a rare achievement these days to be able to get people to agree on something. Yet, even those who often disagreed with George Smith shared the belief that he was a heartfelt champion for Maine who left an enduring mark on his beloved home state.
Smith, 72, died on Feb. 12 after a four-year battle with ALS. He wore many hats: sportsman, advocate, writer, Grampy, to name a few. He spent 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) and was a prolific writer, including as an outdoor contributor for the Bangor Daily News.
Smith’s impact stretched to all corners of the state he loved, so there was little surprise that remembrances poured in after news of his death.
“An avid sportsman, a prolific writer, and a good-natured friend to all, George Smith was the very embodiment of the character of Maine: strong but kind, independent but compassionate, wise but humble,” Gov. Janet Mills said.
“George was one of Maine’s greatest conservationists and most passionate outdoorsmen,” said Lisa Pohlmann, CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a group that was often on the opposing side of issues from Smith and SAM. “He leaves an enormous legacy of using his humor, powerful words and deep experience in the outdoors to protect Maine’s woods, waters, and wildlife for future generations. Always humble and willing to do the right thing for Maine’s environment, George forever changed Maine for the better.”
Both of Maine’s U.S. senators recognized Smith.
“George Smith’s life was defined by his love for the Maine outdoors and his dedication to preserving this integral part of our heritage. The courage he showed as he dealt with the devastating impacts of ALS only furthered my admiration for him,” Sen. Susan Collins said. “George’s passion for hiking, hunting, fishing, and nature was eloquently expressed in his columns. His writings reflected his reverence for the beauty of every corner of Maine, gave a voice to the experiences of countless other sportsmen, and sparked a renewed appreciation for our state among his readers.”
“Though George is gone, I hope all who loved him can take comfort in the fact that his legacy is all around us – from the adventurers he inspired to the lands he protected, his impact will live on for generations,” Sen. Angus King said. “The next time I’m stopped in my tracks by a beautiful Maine landscape, I’ll be thinking of George – who never lost his sense of wonder, and never stopped trying to share it with others.”
BDN Outdoors Editor John Holyoke described starting out writing outdoor columns 19 years ago, and being advised that Smith was simultaneously someone to get to know, someone to trust and someone to watch out for.
“He always had an angle, a legislative bill, or an initiative that he was trying to push. Sometimes, I agreed with him. Other times, I didn’t,” Holyoke explained. “And though he sometimes took issue with a column I’d written, Smith always had a smile on his face when he was giving me hell.”
This is a legacy we need to remember more these days. Smith reminded us that we can disagree — sometimes strongly — but we should treat each other with respect. For we’re apt to find that we agree on the big picture: Making Maine a state we are proud to call home.
As part of his impact throughout the state, Smith built many relationships at the BDN over the years. Several staff members shared recent exchanges they had with him.
“My last correspondence with George Smith was on New Year’s Eve when he reached out with kind words about my latest column. He did that often,” BDN reporter Aislinn Sarnacki tweeted on Feb. 15. “His sign-off to the email? ‘We’re lucky to live in the wild kingdom.’”
“I talked with him on the phone back in September about a fly fishing trip I was planning in Baxter State Park and the upcoming birth of my son,” added BDN Managing Editor Dan MacLeod (who leads the newsroom but is not a member of this editorial board). “He told me there is nothing better than teaching your child to fish. I’m looking forward to finding out.”
Holyoke also described a 2018 interview he had with Smith, in which the tenacious former lobbyist discussed his illness. Even as Holyoke found that Smith talked less and listened more, it feels right to give George Smith the last word now.
“Take another look at your priorities and your busy lives, and even write down, ‘What is most important?’” Smith told Holyoke. “Then, do more of that. That’s the only message I can give people, really. Because I think that’s the most important conclusion.”