Farewell to a Catalina pilot
He was a pilot, a politician, philanthropist and Boy Scout. Hugh T. “Bud” Smith exemplified those roles in his home of Catalina Island.
Although Smith died Sunday morning at age 87, his passion lives on in the things he did for the city of Avalon and its people. The Island native grew up to be a dedicated public servant, always contributing to his community and serving his fellow citizens.
He brought his practical sense as an airline pilot to all his endeavors.
Smith loved his life on Catalina, but he never felt trapped by it. In fact, he remained free as a bird thanks to his ability to fly – airplanes and jets.
Smith grew up to follow his bliss above the clouds, in the sky. He also served on the Avalon City Council for 22 consecutive years. Sixteen of them were as the city’s mayor. The community honored his dedication and the time he spent on local politics. Additionally, the city of Avalon at one time bestowed a special commendation upon Smith’s wife. When interviewed by the Islander in 2006, his face revealed an impish grin as he pointed to the certificate for his beloved Marie that hung in their home amid a plethora of other mementos of appreciation for his service and many accomplishments.
Bud Smith lived life large for nearly nine decades.
“I was born on the Island and so was my wife,” Smith said. “Her last name used to be Vidulich.”
Smith’s family includes the couple’s five children, starting with Tom, the eldest, and Sheili, Denise, Mike and Charmaine.
In his youth, Smith learned a strong work ethic.
“I worked in construction for my dad, who was also named Hugh Smith” (which is why Smith took up the nickname Bud).
His construction background came in handy later in life when his Island home was custom built.
Although Smith had been around the world and said “hello” to everyone twice, he loved being in his Avalon home perched high on the hillside in a friendly enclave. Its large picture window gave him pleasure every day as he could look out upon his world from the comfort of an easy chair.
The soaring view suited Smith, who loved to fly. It was also his career and he ultimately retired as a commercial airline pilot for United Airlines.
“I always wanted to fly and when the war (World War II) came along, I joined the Army Air Corps,” Smith said. “By the time I got my wings, the war was over. I worked for my dad when I got out for a little while, then went to work for the airline.
“When I married Marie, she said she was not sure if she wanted to spend the rest of her life living only on the Island.”
However, Smith’s career as a pilot provided some diversion and prevented the couple from having any sense of island fever.
They moved to Newark, New Jersey for a while. Then their travels took them to Chicago, then Denver, San Francisco and to Los Angeles – a laundry list of hubs for major airlines.
“We finally moved back to the Island in the 1970s,” Smith said.
As an Avalon resident and commercial airline pilot, Smith commuted with his own aircraft to work at Los Angeles International Airport for about 10 years. He had several airplanes during that time. He sold his last one when he was about 80.
Smith became an Avalon City Councilman in 1974, after becoming involved in a land issue.
“I lived up on Clemente Avenue and our neighbor, a lady named Sue Harris, got me involved.
A developer was planning to build 110 units aproximately 110-feet high and about 30 feet from Smith’s front door.
“So I organized a homeowners association,” he said. “We had about 50 members and we had to deal with the powers that were letting this happen.”
He and the homeowners were successful in having the project scaled back to about 64 units that were approximately 45 feet high.
“We felt that was more appropriate to what should have been allowed on the site,” he said.
In the issue’s aftermath, Smith decided he had some talent for politics. Other residents took notice as well.
“I had some people ask me to run for City Council,” he said.
During Smith’s tenure as a councilman, the city of Avalon dealt with many significant issues and made decisions that affect the town to this day.
“There was getting rid of the old steamer building and then construction of the Mole,” Smith said.
He was also very proud of his efforts in bringing the Avalon Chamber of Commerce, the city council and the Island Company together.
“They really did not see eye to eye for some time,” he said.
The city was facing many issues with vehicles on the Island.
“Everyone was coming to us about it,” he said. “In 1976 we created a Vehicle Review Board and I was its first commissioner.”
The city went to the leaders at the state level.
“We became the only city in the state of California that was allowed to limit the number and size of vehicles,” he said. “For some people, this became a personal thing because there was always the issue of ‘I have mine, but you have to wait to get your vehicle,’” he said.
Smith said he thought the vehicle limits were good for the Island. He never regretted moving back to Catalina.
“Everyone knows everyone else,” he said. “It’s a great place to take advantage of what nature has to offer.”
Throughout his life, Smith’s passions remained in flying, camping in the Island’s interior, boating, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling and other sporting actvities.
“I’ve always enjoyed camping on the Island,” he said. “As a boy, I was in the Boy Scouts and we did a lot of camping.”
Smith earned just about every badge the organization had at the time and reached the honorable top rank of Eagle Scout. “Catalina is a great place to live,” Smith said.
Memorial services will be held at 11:30 a.m. today, Friday, Aug. 3 at the Catholic Church.