It would be hard to find many people still invested in community activism or musical performance beyond the age of 85. It would be harder to find someone involved in both. But that’s exactly what the late James “Jim” Thomas Smith accomplished.
Smith, who died on January 25 at 93, was a longtime community figure in Queen Anne, where he resided for 60 years. Throughout his time in Seattle, Smith served as a graphic designer, community council representative, and member of the Seattle chapter of the SeaChordsmen, a quartet of barbers.
Upon moving to Queen Anne with his wife in 1962, Smith became an active member of the Queen Anne Community Council, later becoming one of the original members of the Terminal 91 Neighbors Advisory Committee for the Port of Seattle. Smith served as Chairman of the Shoreline Committee and served on the board of the Queen Anne Community Council for over half a century.
“Jim was passionate about giving back to his community,” said Ellen Monrad, former chair of the Queen Anne Community Council and member of the NAC. “He served until the age of 91, that’s a long time to be involved in just one activity for the community.”
The Neighbors Advisory Committee was born in the 1980s in part out of Smith’s aversion to excessive noise and lights, according to Don Harper, a former associate of Smith’s with the Queen Anne Community Council and NAC, who joined this last in the early 2000s.
“People don’t understand that [noise] just resonates between the hillsides,” Harper said. “When I went up [NAC], the noise had started to decrease from the port. …Original members like Jim had to really push hard on the port, and they really helped set up the way NAC works now, which is a lot more accommodating.
Smith’s work on the NAC spurred the Port of Seattle to adopt similar programs throughout the Seattle area, encouraging collaboration and community building, according to Harper.
“The Port loves [the NAC]”, Harper said. “They started doing it in the Duwamish area and are trying to do it at SeaTac airport. They realized they could engage with the communities in an honest way. … That’s really a testimony of [Smith]how long he was willing to stay there and continue his efforts and continue to teach us new people there.
Smith was also an avid musician. Smith was first introduced to the barbershop through the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America in 1955, before moving to Seattle and joining the SeaChordsmen the following year. During Smith’s 60-year tenure with the SeaChordsmen, he held nearly every elected chapter office.
David Rice, a current member of the SeaChordsmen, recalled Smith’s time with the band.
“He really had no musical training or anything,” Rice said. “He just had a love for the barber shop and he opened up every weekly practice we had until, I would say, four years ago. … He was deeply invested and he just shared that passion with everyone who came and participated. And he was always very welcoming.
Despite his age, Smith also remained an avid outdoorsman, often bicycling, skiing and sailing. Smith even cycled from Queen Anne to Walla Walla for her 50th high school reunion in 1997.
“[The SeaChordsmen] would have these retreats in Port Orchard to prepare for our summer show,” Rice said. “So I drove down to Port Orchard, and about a mile from where this place was, I [saw] this guy riding a bike. And I realized, it’s Jim Smith. You know, the guy is over 80 and he cycled to Port Orchard to be our retirement.
Smith was born in Minneapolis in 1928, but his family moved to Seattle in 1930. After graduating from Walla Walla High School, serving in the U.S. military, and traveling across the country, Smith enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York and later at the Burnley Art School. his return to Seattle in 1956.
There he married Joan Jamieson in 1959, who was Smith’s wife of 62 years until his death.
Above all, Smith will be remembered for his service to his community and his kindness, Monrad said.
“Every Valentine’s Day he encouraged the Queen Anne Community Council board to [get] the SeaChordsmen to come and serenade their Valentines,” Monrad said. “[And] a year for Seafair, when the Blue Angels were going to perform on Elliott Bay, [Smith] invited my family to his house to see the Blue Angels. … My son has never forgotten this experience. Jim has therefore been generous with his opinions and generous with the community.
A memorial for Smith is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Feb. 27 at Queen Anne Baptist Church, the same church where the SeaChordsmen rehearse.