Obituary for Richard L. Smith
On April 11, 2012 Richard L. "Spider" Smith of Hemet, California was once again called to “flight” duty – this time from a higher power. Richard was born in Rochester, New York, June 3, 1924 to Leon and Marie (Visner) Smith. His father, a World War I veteran, was a pattern maker and draftsman for National Brass in Rochester. His mother, who had been raised on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, worked in the shoe industry and was a well-known amateur horticulturist. In addition to raising Richard and his younger sister Joan, they were foster parents to a number of children during the 1930s and 40s.
When Richard was seven his father made him a model of Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis”, sparking a passion for airplanes and flight that would stay with him his entire life. He collected and read everything about aviation that he could find. He started building his own model airplanes and competed in local contests. In junior High School he built a wind tunnel for an inner city science fair that earned him first prize for engineering and best of show. He graduated from Rochester’s John Marshall High School in 1942. He excelled in his studies and was a stalwart on the school’s swim team, medaling in numerous competitions.
Like so many of his generation, what transpired at the end of 1941 was his call to duty, and in December of 1942 at the age of 18, Richard enlisted in the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet program. He graduated from Cadets in February of 1944. In May of 1944 he left for England assigned to the 8th Air Force, 1st Air Division, 303rd Bomb Group, 360th Squadron as a B-17 pilot. In October of 1944, after completing 35 missions over German held continental Europe (25 as copilot and 10 as lead pilot) he volunteered for the 1st Scouting force, flying pre-bombing scouting missions in a P-51. He flew 25 of these missions before bailing out over Belgium when his aircraft developed engine trouble. Among the medals he was awarded during his service in the European theatre are the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 5 oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart for the injuries sustained when he bailed out, the WW II Victory Medal and the American Theater Ribbon. He returned to the United States in May of 1945.
In February of 1944 while home on leave prior to leaving for Europe, his sister Joan introduced him to her friend Betty Engel. She gave them tickets to the Policemen’s Valentine’s Day Ball. It was their first date. They corresponded the entire time that he was stationed overseas. When he returned to the states in May of 1945, he told his father that he wanted to ask her to marry him. His dad told him that he wouldn’t give him permission to do so until he turned 21. A few days later on June, 3rd, his 21st birthday, he proposed. They were married on June 16, 1945, the start of a loving journey shared until his passing. They raised six children, all boys – Daniel, David, Stephen, Glenn, Gregory and Lawrence.
He chose to remain in the service after the war, and, due in part to his technical skill became the Aircraft Maintenance officer at the bases where he was assigned. In 1948 he once again served overseas earning the German Occupation Medal for his active role in the Berlin Airlift, both as a pilot and an Aircraft Maintenance Officer. He remained in the Air Force until 1952. He left with the knowledge that he had served his country with honor and that now the needs of his family were his foremost responsibility.
After his discharge he relocated his family to Rochester, NY where he resumed working at Eastman Kodak. He had been employed as a tool engineer prior to entering the military, but realized that he needed to expand his education to better provide for his family. He enrolled in the night class program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This allowed him to earn a degree in Manufacturing Engineering while working full time at Kodak. He would stay at Kodak for 30 years during which time he went from tool engineer to automation machinery designer. His name appeared on numerous patents and he played a key role in making Kodak one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing companies of the time. He retired from Kodak during the first part of 1982.
He didn’t stay retired for long however, accepting an offer from CBS to become the manager of the tooling department at Fender Musical Instrument Corporation in Fullerton, CA joining his oldest son Dan in working for the company. As he had done at Kodak, Richard designed and constructed machinery for Fender that helped streamline operations, increased productivity and improved overall quality. Much of this equipment is still in use today. In mid-2004 CBS put Fender up for sale. Richard stayed on until the early part of 1985.
Not content to re-enter retirement, he found a job that seemed a perfect match for his love of aviation and his technical expertise. He accepted a position at Northrup as a Manufacturing Engineer, leading their precision drilling department working on the B2 project. As he had in the past, he developed specialized equipment for the project earning two more patents. In 1988 he decided that it was time to actually retire. He and Betty sold their house in Yorba Linda, CA and moved to Hemet where they’ve lived for over 20 years
Throughout his life one thing remained constant - his love for building and flying model aircraft. In the mid-1930s he joined the then fledgling Academy of Model Aeronautics becoming member number 517. He was a loyal member of this organization up until his death. In 2010 he was awarded the membership grade of “Fellow” for his lifetime of outstanding contributions to the advancement of aero modeling. He was a founding member of three clubs, the KPAA Radio Controllers Club, the Radio Control Club of Rochester (both in Rochester, NY) and the Century Flyers of Southern California. He served as an officer, including president, for a variety of clubs over a more than 50 year span. He was an AMA contest director at over 40 local contests and the District II contest coordinator in the late ‘70s. Through his tireless work with private and governmental agencies he was able to procure permanent flying sites for his member clubs. He actively flew and medaled in countless competitions. In 1950, as a member of the U.S. Air Force team, he not only placed in the top ten in free flight at the Nationals, but also piloted the team to the event. Lastly, and perhaps what gave him the most satisfaction, was his participation in and dedication to the educational programs of the AMA – working with kids spreading his love for aviation all the way up to just a few months before he died.
Richard was also active in the both the 303rd “Hell’s Angels” Bomb Group and Scouting Force Associations. He served for a time as the 360th Squadron’s representative. He looked forward each year to both organizations’ annual reunions, attending with his wife and other members of his family.
Surviving Richard are his loving wife of almost 67 years, Elizabeth; son Daniel and daughter-in-law Sylvia of Corona, CA; son Stephen and daughter-in-law Niki of Prescott, AZ; son Gregory of Rochester, NY; and son Lawrence and daughter-in-law Ann of Sudbury, MA. He loved spending time and sharing his stories with his eight grandchildren - grandsons, Stephen, Jason, Sean, Patrick and Evan; and granddaughters Erin, Marie and Stephanie; as well as with his new audience - his great grandson Phoenix and great granddaughters, Gentry, Naomi and Sullivan.
He was preceded in death by his sons David and Glenn.
Just as his parents passed on to him, through how he lived his life, he taught his children and grandchildren the value of hard work, honesty and integrity; how to love without question; how to stand up for what you believe in; how to be a friend; and, most importantly, how to accept the good and the bad in life with common sense wisdom, a generous heart and an extraordinary sense of humor.
In lieu of flowers:
After much thought the family has determined that what would best honor Richard’s memory is to establish a memorial fund in his name. Proceeds from this fund would be used to help educate children about aeronautics through model aviation. He was a very active participant in these programs for many years including those done in the Hemet area. It is the intent of the family to perpetuate this memorial fund and donate to these programs on an annual basis. If you wish to honor Richard in this manner, since the fund has not yet been established, we would ask that you make your donations payable to his wife Elizabeth Smith. They can be mailed to:
790 Crenshaw Avenue
Hemet, CA 92543
There will be get together for friends and family at the above address on May 4th at 1:30 in the afternoon. You are welcome to join us in remembering Richard.
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Military Honors Service
MAY 4. 12:00 PM (PT)
Riverside National Cemetery ~ Staging Area# 1
22495 Van Buren Blvd
Riverside, CA 92518