Tributes paid to Harry Smith

COMING at the age of 97, it would be crass to say the death of Harry Smith last week came as a shock to the town he served so well and for so long.
Fitting tribute...the Harry Smith ComplexFitting tribute...the Harry Smith Complex
Fitting tribute...the Harry Smith Complex

It would be true, however, to say that a sense of loss was felt throughout Lanark, not only for a lifelong champion of the town but also for a whole era of selfless performance of public duty.

The departure of Harry Smith after his very long and very useful life was probably felt even more keenly in neighbouring New Lanark, its very survival today largely down to his efforts as Provost 40 years ago when almost everyone else had written the village off.

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Like so many great Lanarkians, Harry was, in fact, a Glaswegian, born in the city on October 14, 1916 as the First World War still raged; his mother and three brothers came to Lanark when his dad found work as a pastry baker with the Lanark Co-op.

Dearly missed...Harry SmithDearly missed...Harry Smith
Dearly missed...Harry Smith

After schooling, Harry worked for a short time in Lanark before moving to the Riley Motor Works in Coventry, then serving as an engine fitter with the RAF during the war.

He returned to Lanark and used his mechanical skills at the REME workshops at Winston Barracks.

He and his late wife Joan were married for over 65 years; they are survived by their three children, Ian, Joyce and Donald.

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He became deeply involved local politics and in 1971, when Labour took control of the Town Council, Harry Smith became his party’s first ever Provost of the Royal Burgh.

No-one was to know at the time that he would also go down in local history as the very LAST Lanark Provost!

Back in May, 1971, such was the impact of the Labour victory, so many of the party’s supporters turned up to witness Harry’s induction as Provost at the council chambers in Hope Street that the whole ceremony had to be moved upstairs to the more spacious hall of the then-County Buildings.

His tenure as provost lasted only until Lanark Town Council was re-organised out of existence in the local government reforms of the mid-1970’s.

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However, he served the area for several more years as a member of the then-new Strathclyde Regional Council.

He used his time and influence as Provost of Lanark to good effect, especially in throwing himself behind the early moves to save New Lanark for future generations.

At that time the village had been robbed of its original reason to exist, its mill industry, and it looked likely that the whole place would be demolished and consigned to history.

However, Provost Smith was keenly aware of the importance of the village in the social history of not just Scotland but the world, as the recognised birthplace of the co-operative movement.

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He was an important ally for the then few who wanted the village not only preserved but re-created as the jewel in the nation’s conservation crown it is today, holding Unesco World Heritage Site status.

He became a leading light of the New Lanark Conservation Trust, chairing it from 1974 for the next three decades; after that, he became an Emeritus Trustee.

His internationalist beliefs also made him a champion of the early town twinning movement of the 1970s and was still the Provost when Lanark made its first formal link, with Yvetot in France; the friendships he forged is refected in the fact that its local paper also carries his obituary this week.

And he was proud of his work with the disabled, formerly with Enable and the Dale Centre, and more recently with Clydesdale Befriending Group

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His standing in the community was such that, just a few years ago, he was according the very, very rare honour of having a public building - The Harry Smith Complex - named after him while he was still alive. He won national recognition, being made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1984.

Harry died suddenly at his home last Wednesday and his funeral was due to be held this morning (Wednesday) at the Holytown Crematorium, followed by a Memorial Service and celebration of his life at Lanark’s St Nicholas Church.

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