Melvin W. Smith, 83, waterman, marine construction foreman

February 15, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Melvin Webster Smith, a retired marine construction foreman who launched a second career in retirement as a Chesapeake Bay waterman, died of congestive heart failure Monday at his Stevensville home. He was 83.

Mr. Smith was born in Baltimore and raised in Bennett Point near Grasonville. He was a 1942 graduate of Glen Burnie High School and during World War II served in the Navy as an aviation mechanic in the Pacific.

He worked at Crown, Cork & Seal Co. before joining the McLean Contracting Co. in 1959. He directed and oversaw the building and repair of McLean's heavy derricks and barge-mounted cranes.

"These rigs and the two barges, the Cape Fear and Jamestown, were used in the construction and repair of bridges. He was always very excited and proud of them," said his daughter, Deborah Burns of Severna Park.

He worked on the construction of many bridges, including the Bay Bridge and bridges at Hoopers Island and Cambridge.

The former longtime Severna Park resident moved to the Eastern Shore in 1968.

"Being on the Eastern Shore for him was a dream come true," his daughter said.

After retiring from the company in 1984, Mr. Smith decided to become a commercial crabber and purchased the Susan Rae, the first of two classic white-painted bay work boats, that he owned.

After selling the first boat, he bought the C-Nile, from which he continued crabbing until the summer of 2002.

"He always loved the water, and his home at Love Point overlooks the Chester River. Every morning during the summer months he'd go out at 3 a.m. and come back at noon. He was especially fond of Chesapeake Bay retrievers, and his dog Beaux would always go with him crabbing," Mrs. Burns said.

"Melvin was a very quiet man, and when he said something to you, you paid attention," said James R. Matters, president of Langenfelder Marine Inc., who had worked as a welder with Mr. Smith.

In addition to being interested in the life and history of the bay and those who worked on it, Mr. Smith enjoyed collecting Indian arrowheads and had amassed a collection of several thousand.

"When the fields were tilled in the spring, he'd walk over them looking for arrowheads. Those that he didn't have on display in his home, he kept stored in suitcases," Mrs. Burns said.

The collection was considered so significant that experts from the Smithsonian Institution who visited Mr. Smith were interested in acquiring it, she said. He also liked to carve waterfowl decoys, which he enjoyed giving to family and friends.

A funeral service was held Thursday.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Elizabeth Neidert; a son, Melvin Gregory Smith of Centreville; a brother, Harry G. Smith of Ocala, Fla.; and six grandchildren. Another son, Douglas Kent Smith, died in 1983.

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