Gary A. Smith, 70, angler, toll facilities administrator


Gary A. Smith, who rose from a draftsman straight out of high school to become the head of the state's toll facilities on roads, bridges and tunnels, died Thursday doing one of the things he loved best -- taking a fishing trip with friends and family.

An avid angler, Mr. Smith, 70, and his friends traveled to Grantsville in Western Maryland annually for years, spending a couple of days in late April to go fly-fishing. Friends called the civil engineer from Harford County a "fish-whisperer" for his uncanny ability to "read" waters, catching and releasing fish where others had been unsuccessful.

Mr. Smith left his home in Baldwin on Tuesday and was due to return Thursday. It was a banner week for him, friends said. "He called me Wednesday night and said that he caught the biggest fish," his wife, the former Carolyn Williams, said yesterday. "He said, `I'll see you tomorrow.'"

But early Thursday morning, one of his friends could not rouse him from his bed at the Casselman Inn. He had died of a massive coronary, his wife said.

His friend and fellow civil engineer, John Cahoon of Roanoke, Va., said the group of close friends and two of his three sons-in-law offered a makeshift memorial to Smith at the edge of the Casselman River. They toasted him with Scotch whisky, poured a little into the water where Smith had caught so many rainbow trout, and played one of his favorite tunes, Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

"Real men cry," Cahoon said yesterday. "And there were a lot of tears for Gary."

Raised in the Pimlico section of Baltimore, Mr. Smith met his wife while they were still in high school. They would have been married 36 years next month, she said.

He served in the Army from 1955 to 1958, including 16 months in South Korea with the 13th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division.

After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1953, Mr. Smith became a draftsman for the state. He worked while attending night school and earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, graduating summa cum laude in 1967.

Mr. Smith become the toll facilities administrator for the Maryland Transportation Authority in June 1981. Known for his quick mind and ability to delegate work among his subordinates, he was responsible for the management, operation and maintenance of the state's six toll facilities in an era before E-ZPass became commonplace. Under his leadership, the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the world's widest underwater tunnel for motor vehicle traffic, opened in November 1985, connecting Locust Point and Canton in Baltimore.

As the first vehicle rolled through the tollbooth, "he took the first dollar," his wife Carolyn said yesterday.

After he retired in 1986, Mr. Smith worked for about 10 years as a real estate appraiser in Towson. He was also a member of Sharon Lodge No. 182 AF & AM of the Masonic Order, Boumi Temple, Shriners and Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies of Baltimore. He also was an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church of Sweet Air.

Mr. Smith was described as a modest man, loyal to his family and dedicated to his friends. At his daughter's wedding in 2004, he declined to read a lengthy speech, instead giving his notes to the couple privately. His family intends to read it at his funeral.

"He was such a quiet and gentle man that I think he really loved the peace he found on the stream," his youngest daughter, Kristin Smith-Armitage of Arlington, Va., said in an e-mail yesterday. "He loved the outdoors and could fish with a crowd of friends, and no one would say more than a few words."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. John's Lutheran Church, 3911 Sweet Air Road.

Survivors also include two other daughters, Karen Greeley of Freeland and Julie Germeroth of Perryville; a sister, Joanne Stolinski of Stroudsburg, Pa.; and three granddaughters.

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