Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ben Smillie 1923 - 2011

Benjamin Galletley Smillie Born September 11, 1923 Died May 31, 2011

Ben died peacefully at Sherbrooke Community Centre at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife Adele and their five children; his sister Jean (Linton) Taylor; and numerous nieces, nephews and grandchildren. He is predeceased by his brother Alistair and his sister Emmaline. Ben was born at the United Church Women's Missionary Society Hospital at Indore, Central India. He was the oldest of four children of missionary parents who worked at a vocational school for orphaned boys at Rasalpura, in central India.

In 1937, Ben and Jean were sent to Edinburgh to attend Scottish private schools, Fettes for Ben and St. Leonards for Jean. They were left in the care of their mother's brother Alistair, who was a Harley Street doctor in London. Ben joined the British Air Force in 1941 but failed flight training in Trenton, Ontario. Ben says that he was hopeless at tight formation and loops and his Chief Instructor said that he was failing Ben because he'd be of more danger to his crew than to the enemy!

Ben then went to sea as an ordinary seaman with the British Navy in 1942. In 1943 he took officer training and graduated in February 1944. At the age of 21, he was put in charge of a landing barge kitchen with a crew of 36 men. After D Day, Ben was sent to take a navigator course and then served as Navigating Officer on a number of different ships which were part of the British Pacific Fleet, including a ship that was sent to Formosa (now Taiwan) to remove Sikh prisoners from a Japanese prison camp. This experience had a powerful impact on Ben. In August 1946 Ben was discharged from the British Navy in New York and in September of that year he enrolled at the University of Toronto. He was ordained as a United Church minister in 1952, at roughly the same time that he married Adele Mary Palmer.

In 1954, Ben was settled by the United Church of Canada in Vanderhoof, B.C., where he had been a student minister. Adele followed Ben to Vanderhoof by train with first child, Christine. Adele had her hands full with chopping wood and hauling coal for their furnace and taking care of one and then two small children as Ruth was born in November 1954. In 1956 Ben was called to Wilson Heights United Church in Vancouver, where the family, with the additions of Elizabeth and Andrew, stayed for five years before Ben decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Sacred Theology at Andover Newton Theological Seminary near Boston, Massachusetts.

The family made the three week trip from Vancouver to Boston in a Chevy sedan that was pulling a boat and trailer containing most of the family's worldly goods. They blew two transmissions en route and the Smillie children have never recovered from the trauma of waking up in the middle of the night by the side of the road wondering where their parents were, only to finally see their sleeping forms in a ditch or in a park! At the end of that year, Ben accepted a job as United Church Chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 1962, the last of the Smillie children, Mary Margaret was born. The 1960s were an important time to be in Saskatchewan and both Ben and Adele quickly became involved in supporting the CCF government's efforts to introduce universal health care. Ben and Adele both ran as NDP candidates, Ben in the 1965 federal election and Adele in the 1967 provincial election. Ben and the family were also very involved in anti-war activities and opposition to nuclear weapons proliferation. In 1968, the family traveled again to United States, this time to New York, so that Ben could pursue a Ph. D at Colombia University.

After getting his Ph. D, Ben secured a job teaching Christian Ethics at St. Andrew's College in Saskatoon, a career which he loved. After retiring for medical reasons at the age of 63, he turned to writing and published several books. Ben is survived by his wonderful wife of 59 years, Adele, their five children, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Ben/Papa was much loved by family, former colleagues and students, and many friends across the country. The family wishes to thank the wonderful staff at Sherbrooke for the compassion and care they showed Ben over the last seven years and to Jackie Marshall, who brought a lot of joy to Ben's life at Sherbrooke for the last two years.

A funeral service for Ben will be held at Knox United Church in Saskatoon on Saturday, June 4 at 10:30 AM. Arrangements entrusted to MARTENS WARMAN FUNERAL HOME (934-4888).

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