Hillen J. Smith Sr.

[ Age 88 ] He raised thousands of dollars for charities and musical groups by holding soirees at his Roland Park home.

December 16, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Hillen Jenkins Smith Sr., a retired insurance executive who opened his home for 24 years to raise money for charities and musical groups, died of heart disease Wednesday at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson. The former Roland Park resident was 88.

Born and raised in Baltimore County's Long Green, he was a 1936 Boys' Latin School graduate who attended the Johns Hopkins University for two years. As a young man, he trained thoroughbred horses and became an advertising copywriter for the old Hecht's Reliable Stores. He later joined U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Co., where he worked for most of his life. He retired in 1985.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Smith -- who regularly spent a portion of his vacation at ballroom waltz and dance events in Rudesheim, Germany -- decided to open his Roland Park home for musical charity fundraising soirees.

In 24 years, Mr. Smith estimated his concerts raised about $300,000 for four organizations: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Our Daily Bread and the Franciscan Center on Maryland Avenue.

A 2002 Sun article described him as an "84-year-old impresario in red plaid pants" who had created "an extraordinary hidden concert series in a cavernous Roland Park home -- where fine musicians played by lamplight for next to no money, patrons sat on mismatched metal folding chairs, and the `emergency exit' signs were lettered by hand."

The Sun reported that Mr. Smith typically paid the musicians a flat fee of $200 -- to be split no matter how many of them were on the program. The money, plus some walnut-laced chicken salad he made and the mailing expenses, came out of the chosen charity's take.

"He had individual relationships with members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra," said his son, Hillen J. Smith Jr. of Baltimore. "He turned our house into a concert hall."

The admission price was a donation to one of four nonprofit organizations. Guests dropped checks and cash into a large bowl.

"He had a sharp mind and could tell who was paying and who was not. Those who didn't make donations were generally not seen in the future," his son said.

Attendance was by invitation only, The Sun article said. The circle gradually widened from Mr. Smith's friends to their friends, and the mailing list for concerts grew. Those on it would receive word of the latest program on a small typed notice, always headlined: "Hillen Presents."

"Smith's grand house, built in 1900, was part of the attraction," the newspaper account said. "In summer, he would throw open the windows and set chairs on the huge wraparound porch, with more on the lawn."

When he decided to leave his home, Mr. Smith, who did his own home maintenance, said, "It's been a wonderfully happy life. It's the festive atmosphere that's been the most exciting."

A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St., where he was a member.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Francis Hopkinson Smith of Columbia, S.C.; a daughter, Sarah Jenkins Smith of Baltimore; two sisters, Mary Cobb of Wilmington, Del., and Frances Smith Chittenden of Baltimore; and three grandchildren. His marriages to Suzanne Cooper and Grace Fiess ended in divorce. A son, Christopher Wyatt Smith, died in 1979.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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