Photo Gallery | Funeral for former Pittsfield Mayor Charlie Smith
PITTSFIELD — Former Mayor Charles L. Smith was lauded during his funeral service Friday as a man whose positive influences endure through the lives of those who knew him — both within the political arena and outside it.
Smith, who died Sunday at 82, was remembered during a morning service at St. Charles Church attended by current and former city and state officials and many friends and members of his large and extended family.
Beyond serving four terms as mayor, Smith, along with his wife, Patricia, were foster parents to more than 100 children, in addition to raising seven children of their own.
He "was a distinguished and honored and dear friend of mine," said the Rev. Peter Gregory, pastor.
Gregory quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, saying, "The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve."
"That quote," Gregory said, "certainly speaks volumes to the man that we honor here today," and whose life and values wove "a fabric of so many lives."
Among those he inspired, Gregory said, were the Smiths' children, foster children over about two decades, 18 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and countless others who came to know Charles Smith before and after his years on the City Council and eight years in the mayor's office during the 1980s.
Gregory praised Smith for "devoting an extraordinary amount of time and talent in this life," including being willing to shoulder the responsibility as mayor during the 1980s, which were "challenging times for the city of Pittsfield."
Perhaps his most enduring and remarkable trait, Gregory said, was that "if anyone ever attempted to recognize him for a job well done, even to just say, 'thank you,' he found a way to distract it and give credit to someone else."
For nearly 64 years, Gregory said, the Smiths together were "modeling steadfastness, modeling for us stability, trust, affirmation and every quality and virtue that we try to attain here on Earth so that one day we can find our reward."
Mark O'Brien, a grandson, said Smith "was more comfortable interacting with people than anyone I have ever known."
He said his grandfather looked people in the eye and truly communicated with everyone, giving them his undivided attention and trying to understand their concerns.
"Most politicians make it seem they care; Charlie truly did," he said, adding that Smith "understood what leadership really is, and that's service. That was the secret to the greatness of this man: He cared."
O'Brien said Smith was equally generous with his time in private life and as mayor. He described walking down North Street as a child with his grandfather and Smith meeting person after person and listening to what each had to say, "treating them as equals, valuing the source of their ideas ... He was a true democrat, hearing every voice."
O'Brien said Smith was "a great teacher whose lessons live on inside of us."
A granddaughter, Emily Smith, traced the broad details of Smith's life, from losing his father to an auto crash just before he was born to his enlistment in the Marine Corps and later efforts to support an orphanage in Japan while he was deployed at a military base nearby; to a visit by the Smiths to the same orphanage decades later and the subsequent adoption of a son.
She also noted that the former mayor considered the major city water system improvement project he pushed for during his tenure his greatest achievement in the office — casting that effort in light of water system contamination now in the news in Flint, Mich., and Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
"He will always be in my life as my inspiration that you can make a difference," she said.
Among those attending the service were former mayors Daniel L. Bianchi and Gerald S. Doyle, former City Council presidents Thomas Hickey and Joseph Ryan, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and other current or former city officials or employees.
Also in attendance were members of the Marine Corps League, and a Marine Honor Guard escorted the casket and played taps at the conclusion of the service.