T. William Smith February 1, 1943 – August 5, 2020
Thompson William Smith (a.k.a. “Smitty” and “Bill Smith”) was born to Charles and Theodora Smith on February 1, 1943 in Flushing, New York. He was a musician, teacher, wood worker, adventurer, sailor, husband, and friend.
On August 5, 2020 he died peacefully at the age of 77. Bill was the youngest of three brothers. As a boy, Bill was a good student and an Eagle Scout. At a young age he started taking music lessons, and, from then on, music became a major part of his life. Bill graduated from Flushing High School in 1960, and then went on to a successful college career at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. After teaching English and math at the Portage Northern High School in Portage, Michigan for four years, he moved to Wayland, Massachusetts where he spent nine or ten years teaching at the Carroll School in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and another period of time doing woodworking in his own shop as “T. William Smith & Company,” a.k.a. “The Tidy Construction Company.”
In 1978, he married Sarah Gregory, and not long after that, the two of them moved to Salem, Massachusetts where they lived for almost 20 years. During the 20 years that Bill and Sarah lived in Salem, they were active and beloved members of Salem’s Universalist Church. They generously shared their music with that community, including leading many singing groups, and putting on a memorable “Yuletide Festival” for many years. They also provided music for the monthly bean suppers. Bill and Sarah started a monthly series of Contra Dances in Salem, beginning in 1980 and continuing into 2008. Bill formed and directed the Salem Country Dance Orchestra, an open community band, and Sarah called the dances. They had a loyal following in the Salem dance community. While in Salem, Bill also worked for many years as a faculty member at the Tower School in Marblehead. He taught wood working there in the 1990s. Along with teaching the kids how to work with wood, he wove his love of music into the school community by forming and directing the Tower School Folk Orchestra for anyone who played an instrument.
In 1999, Bill and Sarah bought a property on the Back Cove in Waldoboro, Maine. They designed and built a small year-round house there, right on the shore. Throughout the construction, they drove to Back Cove on weekends, and lived in a tent beside the house. In 2003, once the house became habitable, they moved to Maine full time. In 2010, Bill and Sarah joined the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Belfast, Maine. They moved into their home there in 2013. Bill was an engaged and passionate community member who gave freely of his time and talents. An endless stream of woodworking projects—all done for the sheer joy of it—flowed out his shop and into homes and hearts throughout the village. If an occasion called for music, Bill was always right there, banjo in hand, Sarah by his side. He would happily lead or follow. Despite being the most skilled and versatile player around, he didn’t seek the spotlight. He just loved music and the magic that happens when it is shared with friends. Throughout his life, Bill was a quietly charismatic leader with a common sense approach to problem solving and an infectious “Let’s do this!” spirit. At Co-Housing, he organized community work parties, initiated the “Winter Tales” storytelling hour, anchored the Monday morning reading group and the Friday morning Celtic jam, and helped organize the Common House Concert series. When his beloved Sarah passed away he might have been forgiven for laying down the mantle of community leadership and responsibility that he had worn for so long. But he did not. He carried on with style and grace continuing to look forward to each new day. In everything he did, he embraced life with open arms. He inspired us to be our best selves, and he will be very deeply missed by all who knew and loved him, and by all whose lives he touched.
Bill’s never-ending musical adventures were based on his lifelong passion for all things musical. He started playing the guitar, the five-string banjo, and the mandolin in high school. He loved to sing folk songs and play “Old Time” dance tunes. In his 20s, while living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Bill was a member of a quartet called Sweet Corn. That band recorded a delightful LP album, and was a featured band several times at the annual Fox Hollow Music Festival in Petersburgh, New York. In that same timeframe, over the course of many summers Bill was a music counselor at Camp Killooleet in Hancock, Vermont. Around 1970, soon after Bill moved to Massachusetts, he became a founding member of the community country dance band Roaring Jelly. It was there that he first met his beloved wife, Sarah Gregory. Along with Sarah, he then became part of a quintet named Common Ground that, for over a decade, performed concerts and played for monthly contra dances (called by Sarah) first in Lincoln and then in Sudbury.
While living in Wayland, through his deep engagement with the New England contra dance community, he came to be a highly accomplished dance musician. He played 5-string banjo in a traditional way (Appalachian style), but would also occasionally tune his banjo like the top strings of a guitar so that he could play straight melody when needed. He and Sarah also loved to sing songs from many different traditions. They often led song circles, and participated in group sings and sacred harp sings. During the summer months, they enjoyed attending the Pinewoods Music Camp on Cape Cod. They especially enjoyed being on staff there a few times at Campers’ Week. Throughout those many decades, Bill never stopped learning new songs, singing the old ones, leading community sings, teaching the five-string banjo, composing new banjo tunes, and participating in local weekly music sessions. Obituary of T. William Smith Page 3 of 4 Bill’s prowess on the five-string banjo was legendary. He was a widely recognized master of the “Old Time” style of frailing the five-string banjo. Over the years, he won numerous Old Time banjo contests, including taking First Place several times at the Craftsbury Common (VT) Banjo Contests. In the months before his death, he completed recordings of many of his composed banjo tunes (which will be released posthumously). Bill’s compositions were at once melodically rich, lyrical, gently surprising, heartwarming, and written in such a way that they could well have been old traditional tunes that were already “well worn.”
Bill was a lifelong inveterate adventurer. For example, one year he rode his bicycle all by himself from Holland, Michigan all the way back to his home in Flushing, New York. Another year, he hiked a major section of the Appalachian Trail by himself. Years later, he solo hiked the final leg of that trail up to its terminus at the summit of Mount Katahdin. In the 1960s, he became a pilot and a co-owner of a Cessna 172 airplane. He enjoyed flying his plane both around New England, and back and forth to Michigan, often all by himself. Bill was also a sailor throughout much of his adult life, and he and Sarah had plenty of adventures afloat. Once at dusk while sailing their 36-foot yawl from Maine to Massachusetts, they struck a ledge 10 miles off the New Hampshire shore. They stove a hole in the hull, and had to quickly abandon ship. Fortunately, Bill was able to save his banjo. To reach the distant shore, the two of them rowed all night, taking turns with one of them rowing from the bow of the dinghy, while the other sat in the stern of the dinghy with the banjo. They stayed calm and focused by singing a song together for every letter in the alphabet. By the time a passing lobsterman rescued them around 9 am the next morning, they had worked their way once through the whole alphabet (except for Q and X), plus halfway again. Sadly, their yawl sank to the bottom of the sea, and was never found. Later, however, they had many years of smooth sailing aboard their 38-foot ketch, Fine Companion, and more recently aboard their Sea Sprite 28. While they cruised up and down the Maine coast, they loved to sing and play music along the way.
On Bill’s birthday, Sarah used to call him “the great and glorious T. William Smith”, by way of kidding him precisely because he would never think of himself as either great or glorious. In fact, he would think just the opposite. This abiding humility was a source of Bill’s greatness. In the months before Bill’s death, he traveled by himself to Hawaii, and he enjoyed many rides on his brand new electric bike. He also continued to make music with friends. His final adventure was a visit to The Forks, Maine, where he thoroughly enjoyed aday-long rafting trip on the Kennebec River. The following day, on August 5, while floating down the Kennebec River alone, on a rafting inner tube, held by soft breezes, warm sun, and gently flowing water, Bill left us peacefully to re-join Sarah.
. Bill was pre-deceased by his wife, Sarah, his brother, Bob, and by Lorraine, the wife of his surviving brother, Don. He is also survived by his nieces and nephews Janet and Dan Rice, Bob and Maria Smith, Debbie Schneider, Karen and Frank Cottone, Carol and Ed Boyle, Don and Jennifer Smith, as well as many grandnieces and grandnephews, plus countless friends, musicians, woodworkers, singers, sailors, and fellow adventurers.
A Celebration of T. William Smith’s life and music is tentatively planned for a time in the spring of 2021, providing that by then it will be safe to gather together again in music and fellowship. Donations in memory of Bill may be made to either or both of the following non-profit organizations: (1) Belfast Flying Shoes, a dance and music entity that offers ongoing vibrant community outreach programs, including ones in which Bill regularly participated. To donate to Belfast Flying Shoes, go to belfastflyingshoes.org and click on the “Make a Donation” button. (2) The Sarah and Bill Smith Scholarship Fund at the Kinhaven Music School in Weston, Vermont, a classical music camp that offers young musicians transformative experiences. The time Sarah spent at Kinhaven changed her life in a way for which both she and Bill remained ever grateful. To donate to Kinhaven, go to https://www.kinhaven.org/giving/, click on “Make Your Gift Online,” and fill in the box “In Honor or Memory.”
Arrangements are under the care and direction of Giberson Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Madison & Bingham, Maine. To leave a condolence for the family, share a memory, view the online obituary and to share service and obituary information on social media please visit our website at www.gibersonfuneralhome.com
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