I was moved by the fine obituary for Norm Smith Sr. in a recent issue of the Chilkat Valley News. I met him three or four times over the years, but it wasn’t until three years ago that we formed a friendship through our mutual interest in local history.
Norm’s research on local military and Native history was trailblazing in many ways. His work is invaluable, especially his essays about Commander L.A. Beardslee in 1879-80 and the significance of Pyramid Island (“God’s Island”) in the surveying of the West Coast. The Pyramid piece was called “To the Mouth of the Chilcaht,” which was a paper presented at the Alaska Historical Society conference in Juneau in 2006. He also researched the Killer Whale House in Klukwan (wrote a 1977 description of a potlatch there) and the Mathews’ family grave in Dyea. A memoir piece called “A Greenhorn Goes to Sea: Adventures Aboard M/V Gloria West in 1943,” was published, I believe, by the Alaska Historical Society. His papers and some research materials are archived in the Sheldon Museum.
Norm was proud of his Haines relationships, and mentioned being close to the Heinmillers and the Menakers. Ray and Vivian stood and spoke at his wedding to his second wife, Donna, to whom he was married 45 years.
I deeply appreciate his generosity of spirit and dedication to local history.