Tributes to passionate and caring man who fought for the best for his town
PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 October 2020
A Suffolk man who served the community he loved with passion and enthusiam for decades has died at the age of 86.
Don Smith was a highly respected and hardworking community leader who worked tirelessly for the town of Felixstowe and the county at large – whether it was guiding countywide strategic projects or helping his local residents with problems..
Among the many projects he worked on was securing major changes to the Felixstowe dock spur roundabout, spearheading the EADT and Ipswich Star campaign for safety measures following a series of lorry crashes, including a fatal accident when a truck toppled onto a car.
Don served as Mayor of Felixstowe in 2004/05 and was a Labour town councillor for Felixstowe Walton from 1995 to 2006, and served 21 years on Suffolk County Council for Felixstowe Walton. He was county council chairman from 1997 to 1999 and served on a range of committees including social services, policy and highways, and on the Police Authority.
While he often worked quietly behind the scenes on projects, his family said he was “passionate about his council work and getting it to work well for people” and very much enjoyed meeting people and forming long-term friendships.
That was evident in his year as mayor, when, accompanied by his wife Jean as mayoress, he sought to meet as many people in the town as possible, visiting all kinds of groups and activities to show his support and learn more about what made the town tick.
They focussed on the job fully throughout the 12 months, putting their heart and soul into it and enjoying every minute.
Don, who was respected by all sides of the political spectrum, said: “I never had an ambition to be mayor. It’s not something you strive for, thinking one day I will be the town’s first citizen – but I was very privileged to be offered the chance to do it.
“I look on the job as quite a serious one and I tried to do my best to represent the whole town and work for everybody.”
Young people were the focus of his mayoral year, and also raising the rest of the money for the town’s all-weather sports pitch.
His career in local politics began in 1980 when he was first elected to County Hall. He served as chairman for two years running to give some stability to the council as it moved over to executive-style government.
Bryony Rudkin was Labour leader of Suffolk County Council during his time on the authority.
She said: “Don was deeply grounded in the community of Felixstowe and did a very good job representing the town on the council,
“He seemed to be involved in everything that was happening in the town and he represented it very well on the council. His faith was important to him – but he fought for all aspects of life in the town.
“I remember discussing plans to change the fire service in the town long and hard with him – he was determined to ensure Felixstowe was covered well enough.”
During his eventful career, he lost his town council seat on one occasion by the drawing of straws after he tied on votes with another candidate, and in 2001, he was the first person ever co-opted as a councillor onto Felixstowe Town Council.
Born in Halesworth on April 10, 1934, to parents Ethel and Jim, Don was one of three brothers – Len today lives in Fordham, Colchester, while his other brother Jack died in the 1980s.
He was educated at Bungay Grammar School. He served in the RAF as a navigator and worked for 32 years in Customs & Excise, starting his careeer at Prestwick Airport where he met his wife Jean who was working as an SRN. He moved to Felixstowe in 1970 for Customs and retired from the service in 1988.
The couple, who both had a strong faith and attended St Peter and St Paul Church and St Andrew’s Church at Old Felixstowe Parish, married in Prudhoe, Northumbria, in December 1963. They had three sons: James, who lives in Mossley, Andrew who lives in Knutsford, and David who lives in Debenham; and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Don nursed Jean through some difficult years of vascular dementia, particularly from 2010 until she died in June 2017, spending her final two years in the Brierfields care home in Trimley.
He enjoyed walking, particularly in the Lake District and Scotland, where he loved the scenery, and gardening, and he liked antiques and dabbled in them after he retired.
His many community roles included being a school governor, member of the advisory council on religious education, and a magistrates’ court observer.
In his later years he struggled with ankylosing spondylitis which made it impossible for him to lift his head. Combined with his deafness, an unfortunate consequence was if people saw him out and about and tried to get his attention, he often had no idea that they were there.
A funeral service will be held at 11.30am on November 5 at St Peter & St Paul, Felixstowe.