Harry Leslie Smith aged 95, has just died, and this portrait of him is culled from an article by Paul Hunter written in The Star on November 28th 2018.
I have taken particular inspiration from this story, not only because I share my surname with this man, but because at the age of 80 I have been motivated by my Memoir Writing Teachers to share my story with the world. If Harry Smith can do what he has done when he is in the 10th decade of his life, I can surely get my story out there in the 9th decade of my journey on this planet.
Smith has brought up in England in poverty and saw his sister die of tuberculosis at the age of 10 years because there was no health system to assist her. By a stroke of luck, his parents inherited some money allowing them to move to the New World. Harry’s father earned sufficient as a carpet maker to develop in his son, the desire to help those people not as fortunate.
On retirement, Harry Smith was motivated to write his story when his wife died of tuberculosis and his middle son of three, who was battling schizophrenia, died of lung disease. His self-published book drew the attention of The Guardian and he was then invited to write a regular column.
Harry became an activist in his 90’s when he and his son travelled to the Mexican border to publicise the conditions of refugees trying to enter the USA. They documented the injustice, cruelty and inhumanity experienced by the potential migrants. He opened a Twitter account and his admirers ranged from teenagers to geriatrics.
In paying tribute to his father, John Smith describes Harry as, “My best friend, my political comrade and my mentor, who I had the great fortune to accompany on a spiritual and political odyssey that spanned the last nine years of his life.”
Harry’s mission as a survivor of The Great Depression and World War II was to ensure that his past which was ravaged by austerity, lack of health care and intemperate populism, did not once again engulf the world. Harry feared that at this juncture in history the world was in a similar situation as when Hitler took over control of Germany. At the age of 91, Harry Smith was invited to speak in the British Houses of Parliament where he warned of the dangers faced by the National Health system. He received a standing ovation when he opened the eyes of the Members of Parliament to the potential of social services being eroded.
“I would like to feel, when I go, that my life meant something,” he said. “I have seen changes happening; I need to warn ordinary people of the potential significance of the erosion of traditional values.” It is rare to find a person in his 90’s who is prepared to travel the world in order to fulfil his personal ideology.