Remembering Brit Smith
This story was originally published in the Queen's Alumni Review.
Business leader, Second World War veteran, and philanthropist Arthur Britton Smith, LLD’09 — known as “Brit” to most — is being remembered as a successful real-estate developer who gave millions to help people in his community and at Queen’s University.
Smith (who founded one of Canada’s largest rental companies, Homestead Land Holdings, in 1954) passed away on Oct. 28 at the age of 103. “Britton Smith’s legacy at Queen’s Health Sciences is one of generosity and transformation,” says Jane Philpott, Dean of Queen’s Health Sciences. “His gifts have contributed to groundbreaking research, academic excellence, and student success. Ultimately, he has helped impact patients and communities and supported our faculty’s mission to build a healthier world.”
Smith was born in Kingston in 1920 and attended the Royal Military College before the outbreak of the Second World War. While he didn’t attend Queen’s, he received an honorary degree from the university in 2009 and always had an abiding fondness for the school, something he has amply demonstrated.
“I feel very close to Queen’s even if I didn’t study there,” Smith told the Queen’s Alumni Review in an interview in 2014. “I grew up near campus and watched football games at the old Richardson Stadium.” He met his wife of 68 years, Edith “Sally” (Carruthers) Smith, at a Sunday tea held at the home of a Queen’s professor. Sally died in 2012 after a long battle with cancer.
Smith fought in the Second World War and almost lost his life in service to his country. Smith was inside a military vehicle that drove over a German landmine during fighting near the town of Verrières, France. He survived the initial blast, though his legs were badly wounded. After he crawled away, he was hit in the neck by a ricochet. A medic saved his life.
“I have always been surrounded by nurses – army nurses, my family, my wife’s friends. They were good to my wife, Sally (during her cancer battle). I would say the nurses in this country are wonderful,” he told the Queen’s Journal in 2014.
That respect was reflected in his support of Queen’s Health Sciences through generous gifts. He helped the Department of Surgery establish the Britton Smith Chair in Surgery with a $3.5-million donation and a $4-million gift to launch the School of Nursing for the Sally Smith Chair in Nursing. Smith also donated $500,000 for the Smith Chair in Surgical Research, $500,000 toward the Paul B. Helliwell Chair in Orthopaedic Research, and $500,000 for a nursing endowment.
“A. Britton Smith’s generosity is captured in the Sally Smith Chair in Nursing, which represents the largest donation to the School of Nursing (SON) in our history,” says Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, Vice-Dean, Queen’s Health Sciences, and Director, SON. “The chair is named after his wife Edith ‘Sally’ (Carruthers) Smith, who died in June 2012 after a courageous battle with cancer. Both of their legacies will live on in the innovative research that comes out of this important position.”
Smith also gave to the Initiative Campaign to help build the new home of the School of Medicine. He pledged $1 million to the revitalization of Richardson Stadium and also supported other major Queen’s projects including the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts and the expansion of Goodes Hall.
Queen’s was just one of the many organizations that benefitted from Smith’s generosity. Some of his many other major gifts to Kington-area organizations include a $700,000 donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area, $1.2 million to the United Way to support homeless youth, and $4.5 million to Hospice Kingston toward building a residence and palliative-care centre.
His philanthropy is one of the reasons he was made a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.
“He was a true friend of Queen’s and his impact extended far beyond our campus,” says Queen’s Vice-Principal (Advancement) Karen Bertrand, Artsci’94. “He put community first and had a deep belief in helping others. His generosity will be felt for many generations to come.”
Smith talked about why giving back was important to him during an interview with the Alumni Review in 2014.
“I grew up in a family that believed if you’ve been blessed in life and have been fortunate enough to do well, you should give back to the community. I’ve always tried to do that,” Smith said.
Smith was predeceased by his parents Cyril Middleton Smith and Edna Madeleine Smith, his beloved wife Sally, and son Britton. He is survived by his daughter Sheila Bayne, Law’69 (husband Donald, Arts’66, Law’69, EMBA’01, LLD’17), son Alexander (wife Bonnie), many grandchildren and great grandchildren, sisters Gwen Berry, Cynthia Hurst and partner, Margaret Daicar.