Walter M. Smith


Note: An obituary for Walt Smith appeared in the Loundon Times-Mirror. A memorial service will be held on April 28 at 3pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Potomac Crossing Ward, 801 Balls Bluf Rd., N.E., Leesburg, VA 20176. Donations in Walt's name may be made to the PATC. To do so, go to the donation page and enter Walt's name at the bottom.

Walter M. Smith, former PATC president, Honorary Life Member, and active trail manager and volunteer on Great North Mountain and Massanutten Mountain for many years, passed away April 6.

Walt SmithTom Johnson, himself a former president, remembers: In 1998 I was Sandi Marra’s vice president for operations, and we  had heard that someone named  Walt Smith from Winchester was trying to revive the moribund Northern Shenandoah Valley Chapter of PATC.  Neither of us knew Walt, but we decided to drive out to the chapter’s annual meeting.  There we first met Walt.  He had organized a memorable event, and we realized that we were looking at a new talent.   

On the drive back, we got to talking about Walt, and the incredible new leader that we had just discovered.  I had told Sandi that I would not be running for president to succeed her, although I expected that I would eventually run for the job.  So Sandi asked me if I would call Walt and ask him if he would run.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but a good and prescient impulse.  I called him the next day, but he turned me down – was just too busy running the chapter.  Several  days later, however, he called Sandi and said he had re-thought the offer and was willing to run.  He was elected president in November of 1998, and began four years in office the following January, 1999.

Walt Smith I served as Walt’s vice president for operations.  Our relationship was very close, and I regarded myself, correctly or incorrectly, as his right hand man.   To me Walt exemplified the qualities of leadership that I had been taught in the Air Force.  (Walt learned them in the Army; he was a retired lieutenant colonel.)   He knew that positive motivation was always better than negative.  I can never remember him treating someone harshly (although there were certainly occasions when harshness might have been called for).  For all his military training, he was gentle interacting with colleagues, and he retained loyalty from all who served him.

Walt was a strategic thinker, and many of us remember the various exercises in putting together a strategic plan.  He was always tinkering with the structure, trying to improve club functionality.  Once he drove all the way to Boston to talk to AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club, and largest and oldest trail club in the United States) about their structure and how it worked.  AMC had long ago implemented a chief executive officer-board of directors structure, but Walt returned to Vienna advising that PATC was not quite ready for that method of organization.

I succeeded Walt as president, and tried to live up to the example that he had set.  I did not, on occasion, succeed in that.  But we all knew that we had to try to follow his example.  To me, the way he ran the club was the way it should be run.

  In succeeding years Walt was the district manager for the Tuscarora Trail, and that gave me the opportunity to work with him again, putting into place the section of the Great Eastern Trail that ran through his district.  It was an unfailingly pleasant and stress-free experience. Walt just knew how to relate.

 Now he is gone, and those who never knew him don’t know what they missed.

-- Tom Johnson