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John William Smith—August 10, 1927–March 16, 2018

John William Smith (photo: John Sylvester)John William Smith was born in Toronto in 1927 to middle-aged parents, both of whom had immigrated to Canada from England around 1910. He was an only child; his childhood was solitary, but happy. He made meticulous model airplanes and boats that he carved out of balsa wood. John was highly intelligent and won all the awards in all the grades all through school. He was skilled in mathematics and physics and, it seemed to us, he knew everything about the universe, but he chose to teach English all his working life. He was a poet, a classical music aficionado, and a collector of books. John was athletic his whole life —a runner, a swimmer, a bike rider, a woods walker, and a feeder of squirrels. He was a man who felt peace among trees, with wind on his skin.

John Smith taught English at Prince of Wales College and then at the University of Prince Edward Island, where he was Dean of Arts for a number of years, and he retired with the honour of UPEI Professor Emeritus. He was loved as a teacher and respected as a colleague. In 2000, John became Prince Edward Island’s first poet laureate. Once, at a poetry talk, John was asked for whom he writes—who was his audience? “I write,” said John, “for a benevolent audience in the Mother Ship.”

John was a man of great spirit and was the most non-judgmental person we have ever met. No matter how frail his body these last few years, he talked of profound matters, such as the dialogue between the particular and the general—between the ego or small self and the atman. He said recently his thoughts and language have changed for expressing these ideas about reality.

John Smith died peacefully on Friday evening, March 16, 2018. He was the most lucid and learned human most of us have ever known or are likely ever to know again. He was a kind and gentle man. Owls and orioles gathered around him these last weeks. 

—Julia Schurman, daughter, and Deirdre Kessler, friend

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