In Memoriam: Hugh P. Smith Jr. (1920 -2011) « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

In Memoriam: Hugh P. Smith Jr. (1920 -2011)

In Memoriam: Hugh P. Smith Jr. (1920 -2011)

I learned via a forwarded e-mail from my friend, noted avian artist Julie Zickefoose, that our mutual friend Hugh P. Smith had died quietly at his home in Santa Barbara, CA on Friday, March 5, 2011. He was a beloved husband to Sue, his wife of 62 years, as well as a wonderful father to his four children Nancy Bishop, Hugh Smith III, Chuck Smith and Carolyn Swain. He is survived by them and his six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. There will be a memorial service in Santa Barbara at 10AM on Thursday March 10 at St. Michael’s University Episcopal Church with a reception to follow at Maravilla. Those who knew Hugh may wish to send a donation in his name to his favorite charity, the Santa Barbara Food Bank: 4554 Hollister Ave, Santa Barbara, CA 93110-1700.

Here is the e-mail that I sent to Sue after I heard:

Dear Sue, I am sending lots of love, strength, and energy to all. I loved Hugh with all of my heart and will forever remember his wonderful chuckle. So many great memories: the Yellow-billed Magpies in the backyard; Hugh removing the stitches from Sugar’s belly–my how my Elaine loved that cat; the quail that jumped up on the perch when Hugh shouted, “Up quail!” And the pancakes smothered in hot blueberries in town.

I am sending a special hug for you as I know the road that you are on.

If anyone has a copy of the article that I did on Hugh for Bird Watcher’s Digest way back when, I would love to receive a scan if at all possible.

later and love to all, artie

Daughter Carolyn was kind enough to send the requested scan. My older daughter Jennifer typed it up for me today. It appears below.

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Dr. Hugh P. Smith Jr. loved to photograph birds

“House and Garden Host” by Arthur Morris (as it appeared in the March/April 1995 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest).

A stunning male California quail struts along the path in Hugh Smith’s backyard, where I am photographing birds for the first time. “Y’all gonna photograph that mighty pretty, bird, Artie?” asks Hugh, his South Carolina roots quite evident. “Nah. The gravel’s too bright a background for me,” I reply, m y New York upbringing just as obvious.

“No prob-LEM-uh,” answers my host. I imagine that he will try to lure the bird up into his “peanut BUD-der tree” with some special quail fare, but Hugh simply calls out loudly, “Up quail!” And the plump little male, his top-knot aquiver, jumps right up onto a bare branch and poses—like some sort of sedated bobblehead doll—for more than a minute.

Since that day, Hugh and I have become close friends, but whenever I tell the story of that obedient little quail, Hugh says that he has no recollection of the incident; I seriously doubt it happened that way, Artie,” he always says. But it did.

Hugh and his wife, Sue, live now in the hills above the Danish tourist town of Solvang, California. His passion in life, like mine, is photographing birds. His articles and photographs have appeared in these pages, and his images have appeared in many other magazines and books. And a great many of them were taken in his wonderful backyard.

Hugh is a friendly, southern gentleman; when I phoned for the first time from my parents’ home in San Diego and identified myself, he answered, “I’ve been enjoying your dissertations on bird photography in Bird Watcher’s Digest for some time now. Why don’t ya’ll come up and spend a few days with us?” We did.

Days in the Smith household traditionally begin with a trip to town in the pre-dawn blackness for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant, the home of Arne’s famous aebleskivers—round fritters filled with raspberry jelly. Hugh always insists on picking up the tab.

As the sun rises over the hills to the east, Hugh is busy in his backyard setting the table for the birds. Seed trays and hummingbird feeders are filled, and additional seed is scattered on the ground for the quail and sparrows. Orange and apple slices are affixed to various trees. And a recycled mouse is left for the roadrunners—they raised three young in the backyard in the spring of 1994.

Next, the ‘peanut BUD-der tree” is treated. A dozen or more yellow-billed magpies often line up on the Smiths’ roof the moment that Dr. Smith emerges with a jar (or a tub) of peanut butter. Several years ago, Hugh—much to the consternation of his neighbors—planted a small dead tree in the center of his yard. He bored several large holes on the back (shady) side of the tree so that when he stuffed peanut butter into the holes each morning, the gooey stuff would not be visible in his photographs. (The back of Hugh’s house, which abuts the garden, faces north so that he is able to photograph birds through his open study window from dawn til dusk as the sun travels across the southern sky.)

Even without the numerous feeding stations, Hugh’s hillside garden would be a haven for avian life because of the extensive plantings. Burford holly, banksia rose hedge, and pyracantha provide a wealth of berries from late summer through winter. The blossoms on the apple, apricot, and peach trees are so attractive to sparrows and finches that the trees rarely bear fruit. Hummingbird sage, nicotiana (a wild tobacco with tubular yellow flowers), and several eucalyptus trees with red blossoms are extremely popular with the hummingbirds that visit regularly.

During my three brief visits to Hugh’s Solvang backyard, I have seen turkey vultures, sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, red-tailed, and ferruginous hawks, American kestrels, mourning doves, greater roadrunners, Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds, downy, Nuttall’s and acorn wood[eclers, scrub jays, house and Bewick’s wrens, northern mockingbirds, California thrashers, “Audubon’s” warblers, rufous-sided and California towhees, song, lark, golden-crowned, and countless white-crowned sparrows, Brewer’s blackbirds, “Bullock’s” orioles, pine siskins, American and lesser goldfinches, house finches, and of course, California quail and yellow-billed magpies.
To the yard list the Smiths add Lawrence’s goldfinch, black-headed grosbeak, hooded oriole, western meadowlark, western tanager, western bluebird, Allen’s black-chinned, Costa’s and calliope hummingbirds, cliff swallow, plain titmouse, bushtit, American crow, red-shafted flicker, orange-crowned warbler, hermit thrush, white-tailed kite, red-winged and tricolored blackbirds, band-tailed pigeon, white-winged dove, cedar waxwing, ash-throated flycatcher, Say’s phoebe, and Lincoln’s sparrow. And Hugh has photographed them all!

Hugh P. Smith, Jr., born in Hartsville, South Carolina, in 1920, has always been interested in birds. He began collecting eggs (“a popular and commonplace activity in those days,” he says) while hunting with his father. He continued collecting through his early college years at The Citadel. So as not to leave any human odor at the nest site, Hugh always used a spoon to take only a single egg from each nest that he found.

“Momma saved that collection forever,” recalls Hugh. “I could recognize each one of ‘em 40 years later.” Sue adds, “Every one of our four children took them for show-and-tell at least a dozen times.”

Hugh transferred to the University of North Carolina, graduated in 1940, and enrolled in their medical program. After Pearl Harbor, he decided to “drop out of med school, join the army, and go to the war.” He phoned his father, who advised, “They need doctors more than they need soldiers.” Hugh agreed. In 1942, Hugh transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in December, 1943.

Hugh enrolled in a Navy medical program and interned t San Francisco City and Country Hospital for nine months. As a Navy doctor assigned to the 2nd marine Division, he wound up on Saipan just before the war ended. Six weeks after an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Hugh was among the first troops to land there. He spent a year in the devastated city, “wandering all around the radioactive ruins. They didn’t tell us anything about it.”
When he left the service, Hugh took an internal medical residency at Emory University. There, as chief resident, he met “this charming lady, Susie, and got married up with her” on June 2, 1948. After another year of residency in Boston, and a half year studying X-ray in Philadelphia, Hugh and Sue moved to South Carolina, where Hugh entered joint medical practice with his father and became board-certified in internal medicine.

In 1956, the Smiths relocated again, this time to California, fulfilling a longtime dream of Hugh’s. After practicing internal medicine for several years, Hugh studied X-ray for three years at Long Beach Veteran’s Administration Hospital and became board-certified in radiology. After moving to Boise, Idaho, and running a vascular laboratory three for five years, Hugh once again moved to be near his parents, this time, to Naples, Florida. Dr. Smith practiced radiology in southwest Florida until 1982, when he retired to Solvang, California.

Hugh had been interested in photography since high school; he remembers returning from Japan with “two rolls of film and some excellent pictures.” With retirement and lots of free time, he dusted off his camera and lenses and began taking pictures again.

For almost five decades, Hugh Smith had been “too busy to notice birds.” But when he photographed a hummingbird in flight through his kitchen window, the photograph won first prize at a local camera club.

Hugh’s longtime interests, birds and photography, were at last united. For the hungry birds of Solvang, and for the many photographers lucky enough to have visited Hugh’s amazing backyard, this was a most fortunate occurrence. And for himself and the many readers who have enjoyed his photographs and articles, Hugh Smith’s retirement interests have proven most rewarding.

Note: I spoke to Sue on Tuesday night and she seemed to be doing quite well.

12 comments to In Memoriam: Hugh P. Smith Jr. (1920 -2011)

  • Jolita McDaniel

    I just discovered Dr. Smith’s obituary, and it is with great regret that I lost touch with them after he and Sue moved from Solvang to Santa Barbara. I worked for this gentle, fun, big-hearted, conscientious and talented medical man for about five years in Southern California. He and Sue and his family became most admired and respected friends, for they treated my family and me, as his medical secretary, with utmost generosity. After they moved to Solvang, we were fortunate enough to have been invited for dinner there, and also to meet them here in Lompoc at Bob’s Big Boy for chili. What loving, down-to-earth rare people. If any of the family or friends read this, I would so appreciate someone contacting me with Sue’s address or email or phone number, for I truly want to express my condolences and appreciation. I loved the above article. As wonderful as it is, it still doesn’t touch all the marvelous attributes of this fine man. God bless and comfort all of you in your loss.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jolita. I am glad that you found the tribute. I have e-mailed Sue and copied you. I hope that she responds. later and love, artie

  • Stephen Sapp

    Hugh and Sue were fixtures at the Moorings Presbyterian Church in Naples, FL, for the five years I served there as Associate Pastor (1976-1981). They were a truly loving couple who helped us in many ways, not least of which involved very helpful tips on bringing up children in our early years of child-rearing (most memorably perhaps, “What’s more important, making sure there are no dust bunnies under the dresser or building memories playing with your new baby?”!). Hugh was a genuine Southern gentle-man, and Sue was his perfect soulmate. Though we are sad about his death and her loss, it is a cause for celebration that they had so many wonderful years together, bringing joy to so many others!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Stephen for sharing that with us. And I agree. Later and love, artie

  • Jim & Kathy Shannon

    Sue, from years and miles ago, our sincere condolences to you and the family. I will pass along the information to the Moorings Presbyterian family in Naples and beyond.

  • harvey tabin

    Nice to have close friends. Great article. Guess a NYC education is pretty good. Sorry for your loss.

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    I did shed a few tears as I was writing this post but for the most part I have wonderfully happy memories of the great times I had with Hugh and wife Sue and with my late wife Elaine.

  • What an inspirational piece on a wonderful man. Your writing brings tears to my eyes and makes me want to go out and plant a dead tree in the backyard and put a little peanut butter in some secret holes.

  • Art,
    Sorry for your loss. Hugh sounds like an incredible person. While it never completely removes the pain, think how fortunate you are to have had the time with him to make these great memories. You will always have them.

  • I did not know Dr Smith, but it sounds like he had a wonderful family and a wonderful life that touched many folks. May God bless and comfort his family during this difficult time.

  • Sounds like you shared some good times and you have some fond memories. My condolences to his loved ones.

  • Andrea Boyle

    What a lovely rememberance! And I love the article as well. I did not know of Hugh Smith but he sounds like quite a character… I wish our paths had crossed… My condolences to his family and close friends.