Family, Faith and Flying were his greatest passions”
by Susan Farrelly
Born on April 8, 1951 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Guelph, Walter was the son of Walter and Doreen Smith. Nicknamed “Wally”, he was the third child for the couple, having two older sisters, Susan being the eldest and Catherine as the second oldest sibling. Doreen worked at the Guelph telephone answering service and was a homemaker during this time, and Walter was employed at Bell Canada. Three other siblings would follow Wally’s birth – Tom, Eric and Elizabeth – rounding out the Smith family with a total number of six children.
Wally wore glasses from early childhood. He delivered newspapers on his bicycle and was a student at Paisley Road School from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and then went to Old Central School for 7 and 8. In high school, he was athletic, excelling in football and baseball. He had lots of neighborhood friends and graduated from GCVI high school.
Cathy always thought that Wally would g into dentistry. When she was six years old, Wally pulled out her two front teeth with a skipping rope. “I remember the sound of the teeth hitting the floor” shared Cathy. “It sounded like popcorn popping. It was two years afterwards of asking for two front teeth for Christmas.”
Even though there was a 10-year age difference between Wally and his youngest sister Elizabeth, she recalls of his younger years that “Mom would take Wally to the airport for his flying lessons,” she shared. “He got his pilot’s license before he could apply for a driver’s license.”
Wally loved flying and shared this love with those close to him. He would take friends from high school for airplane rides on their lunch hour. His younger brother Eric recalls, “He gave me my very first airplane ride, in a Cessna 150. It was a present for my 11th birthday.”
“To me, Wally was my big brother in every way. He faced a lot of difficulties in life, but he always treated me like his little brother,” explained Eric. “We concocted a little stunt. This was when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I called it the ‘fall back game’. I would stand with my back to him and make myself rigid like a board. Then I would simply fall back and he would catch me. I never feared hitting the floor, so I never unlocked my knees or put my hands back to catch myself. I trusted him completely.”
Wally left the family home at the age of 16. He worked part-time at Knight Lumber Co. which some years later burned down. When his sister Susan went into Nursing school, Wally bought her a Timex watch with his earnings from Knight Lumber. She still has the Timex watch and treasures it to this day. Wally was hired by Ontario Hydro, and he spent time working in Guelph, Harriston, Orillia and Orangeville.
His brother Eric recalls, “One thing that always amazed me about Wally was that he seemed fearless. Also, he was not one to back down from a fight!”
Wally loved airplanes, classic and muscle cars, model building, playing baseball. “We had opportunities to attend car shows and airshows together,” shared Eric. “He taught me how to drive his 1939 Plymouth one summer. This was a very big deal for me as I shared his interest in classic cars. These are all very fond memories for me.”
Wally started dating a woman named Carol Shepherd and they were married when he was 22 years old. “They were married on my 12th birthday,” shared Elizabeth. “I was a bridesmaid and I came to love Carol too.”
This marriage was short-lived, and it was a difficult break-up. “I remember being very worried about Wally,” explained Elizabeth. “It wasn’t until he met Patricia did I see happiness in his face again.”
Wally fell in love with Patricia Thackaberry (nee Contini) and they married and lived in the communities that Wally worked, eventually settling in Waterloo. He became a born-again Christian and Elizabeth recalls that “it made him so happy”. Pat was the love of his life. She had a daughter from a previous marriage, Carrie, and Wally was very proud to have a daughter, and enjoyed being a step-father. Wally and Pat had a son Walter Evan Smith, whom he also adored.
Wally had been suffering for quite some time with a back problem that forced him to retire early from Ontario Hydro. His ongoing health problems meant that he was in constant pain. “I believe his faith in God and his love of family was what kept him going,” said Elizabeth.
He passed away suddenly on March 11, 2004 in Waterloo of a heart attack while driving. Pat and Evan were in the vehicle with him, as they were on their way to take Evan to school. Neither Pat nor Evan were injured in the resulting accident. Wally was 53 years old.
Always in our hearts but never forgotten. Rest in Peace Uncle Wally… we miss you.
Thank you Aunt Cissy, Uncle Eric, Aunt Susan, and my mom Cathy, for sharing your precious memories.