David R. Smith

[ Age 79 ] Seaman's 50-year career as a mariner spanned Navy and merchant service, as well as four wars.

November 25, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

When word came Tuesday evening of the death of Capt. David R. Smith, members of the Maryland Marine Club, who were attending their monthly dinner meeting at a Brooklyn restaurant, quickly rose to their feet for a moment of silence to honor one of their own.

Captain Smith, who served in four wars and whose nearly 50-year career as a mariner spanned both the Navy and merchant service, died early Tuesday of complications after kidney surgery at Mercy Medical Center. The Federal Hill resident was 79.

He was born in Reading, Mass., the son of a mariner, and was raised there and in Beverly, Mass., and Warwick, R.I.

"I always wanted to go to sea," Captain Smith said in an interview with Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Sun editor and author of Good Shipmates, an oral history of the Liberty ship John W. Brown. "I guess it's restless. You got to keep moving, or you'll be painted over."

He began his maritime career in 1943, when he went to work as a welder in the Walsh Kaiser Shipyard in Providence, R.I., and two years later, enlisted in the Navy during the waning days of World War II.

As a commissioned Navy officer for 12 years, he served as an executive officer, salvage and diving officer, and chief engineer aboard a destroyer. During the Vietnam War, he saw combat while serving aboard patrol boats and as an adviser to the Vietnamese.

While in the Navy, he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode Island in 1957, and did graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University's Maritime Institute of Technology.

After leaving the Navy in 1970 with the rank of lieutenant commander, Captain Smith became a Coast Guard licensed master of steam and motor vessels of any gross tonnage.

For the next 21 years, he served as second mate, chief mate and captain aboard tankers and cargo and container ships.

"His final voyages were made in 1991 during the first Gulf War, when he made three round trips from Baltimore as captain of the SS Cape Alexander that was transporting jeeps and Bradley fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia," said his wife of two years, the former Lorraine Bergqvist.

After leaving the sea, Captain Smith became the owner of Allcargo Inc. and co-owner of Marserv Inc., two maritime consulting and surveying firms. He was also the secretary and treasurer of the Council of American Master Mariners.

Maritime surveyors are experts in inspecting damage to ship's hulls and machinery.

Captain Smith was often called as an expert witness in maritime cases and had testified in the Exxon Valdez disaster.

"He knew anything there was needed to know about the marine industry because he had been in it for so long. The thing about Dave was his extremely varied marine background, and when he retired from the sea, he wasn't about to be put out to pasture or `swallow the anchor,' as they say," said Capt. Brian H. Hope, a Chesapeake Bay pilot and friend.

"Dave was well-known in marine circles, and while not very outgoing, was friendly; he was a very methodical person, and I certainly took any advice he had," said John J. Heffernan Jr., president of Marserv Inc.

"If he did a survey for you, you knew it was done right. He knew his business and you never questioned it or his word," said Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman and chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

"He was a quiet man and not the least bit boisterous," said Lewis F. Sensenbach, who had been controller of Bethlehem Steel's Key Highway shipyard.

After attending a lecture where Captain Hope discussed the John Brown coming to Baltimore, Captain Smith quickly wrote a check for $500 to Project Liberty Ship, and after retiring, helped in the vessel's restoration.

"He was a real go-getter, and one of the guys who helped keep the John Brown going," Mrs. Bentley said.

"His broad experience in maritime matters made him a valuable asset in addressing the many issues involved in the preservation and operation of a 64-year-old historic ship," said Michael J. Schneider, Project Liberty Ship chairman. "Dave's numerous contacts and the respect he enjoyed in the maritime field opened many doors for us."

One of Mr. Smith's accomplishments was a 14-day solo voyage aboard his sailboat from Tortola, British Virgin Islands, to Havre de Grace.

"He said then, only bad weather he ran into was in the Chesapeake Bay, and he had eaten a lot of tuna fish and beans out of cans," Mrs. Smith said.

"He was like an old New England whaling captain -- tough as nails," Mr. Imhoff said.

Plans for services at Arlington National Cemetery were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are two sons, Walter Smith of West Manchester, Pa., and Karl Smith of Golden, Colo.; a daughter, Theresa Smith of Parkesburg, Pa.; two stepsons, John Jackson of Bel Air, and Sean Jackson of Kingsville; a stepdaughter, Lesley Tompkins of Kingsville; and six grandchildren. His previous wife, the former Joan Franklin Burgess died in 2002. Three earlier marriages ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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