Friends, family and colleagues recalled the late Mountlake Terrace Mayor Jerry Smith as a tireless community booster and a generous man who would go out of his way to help a neighbor.
“He was really Mr. Mountlake Terrace,” said former Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield, who worked with Smith for nearly eight years. “He was a great statesman as the mayor and a great civic leader.”
The 77-year-old Smith, who had served on the Mountlake Terrace City Council since 2001 and as the city’s mayor since 2004, died in his sleep at home Dec. 14. His death came just hours after he presided over a city council work/study session.
A Mountlake Terrace resident for nearly 50 years, Smith was also remembered for his work with the city’s youth.
“He always looked out for the kids in Mountlake Terrace,” said longtime friend and neighbor Dave Mercer, who remembers first meeting Smith shortly after Mercer and his family moved to Mountlake Terrace in 1977.
At that time, Smith was an officer with the Seattle Police Department and also owned an auto parts store in the Town Center. Mercer had stopped in for car parts and Smith — who at the time was serving as the president of the Mountlake Terrace Youth Athletic Association (MTYAA) — asked Mercer if he had any children who played sports.
“I have a boy playing soccer,” Mercer replied.
That initial conversation began a 30-year friendship for the pair, who also discovered they lived in the same Mountlake Terrace neighborhood.
Mercer said that when Smith decided to make a bid for city council, he lost the first two times he ran. “He was disappointed,” Mercer recalled. “I said, ‘Well, run again.’ He stayed with it.”
First elected in 2001, Smith was re-elected three more times, most recently in 2017. Because Mountlake Terrace has a city manager form of government, the mayor is selected by his fellow councilmembers, rather than voters; Smith has been serving as mayor since 2004.
As a candidate, Smith “didn’t collect money from anybody,” Mercer added. “He ran on his own, bought his own signs, did his own campaigning. When I asked him why, he said, ‘I don’t want to be beholden to anybody so I’m doing it on my own.'”
Smith was also a big fan of Mountlake Terrace High School basketball, and he and his wife Judi were often in the MTHS gym cheering on the Hawks.
Long-time Mountlake Terrace civic leader Vic Sood — whose son, Nalin, coaches the MTHS boys team — said that the Smiths would travel to the Hawks’ playoff games and even made the trip to watch the team during recent state championship runs in Tacoma and Yakima.
Sood, himself a former Mountlake Terrace City Councilmember from 1979-80 who recently retired after 14 years on the city’s Planning Commission, recalled that Smith became mayor at a difficult time of infighting among councilmembers. “He brought everybody together,” Sood said.
“He breathed Mountlake Terrace,” said Michelle (Robles) Kloppman, a former Mountlake Terrace City Councilmember who worked with Smith on the council from 2004-2012. “I was given the gift of serving with him and it remains an honor.”
Smith “loved people” and made friends wherever he went, but he was also known for being direct, said long-time Mountlake Terrace City Councilmember Laura Sonmore. “He didn’t like a lot of BS,” Sonmore said. “He’d always say, ‘Tell me what you’re going to tell me and tell me what you know.'”
Smith had leadership roles throughout South Snohomish County. He served on the boards of Community Transit, Snohomish County 911 and the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System (SERS), playing instrumental roles in guiding those organizations through mergers and funding challenges. But first and foremost, he was an advocate for the city he loved.
“Jerry always looked out for what was best for Mountlake Terrace, and at the same time supported progress for South Snohomish County as well as the county at large,” said Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling. “He was always open to others ideas, but was willing to take his personal stand. His voice will be missed.”
Mayor Smith “certainly had his way of doing things,” added former City Manager Caulfield. “I was always very impressed with how he was able to inspire people and get them to yes, but get them to yes on their terms.”
When the Mountlake Terrace City Council adopted the Town Center plan in 2007, providing a roadmap for development in the city’s downtown core, it was “a very controversial issue with some people in the community,” Caulfield recalled.
Yet, he added, the plan was approved by a 7-0 vote.
“Everybody on the council voted for that for their own reasons,” Caulfield said. “Quite frankly, that would not have happened without Mayor Jerry Smith.”
Noting the late mayor’s habit of bringing a favorite treat to every meeting, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith said that Jerry Smith “served his city and South Snohomish County with professionalism, dedication, a bit of humor and, of course — maple bars.”
In particular, Lynnwood’s Smith pointed to the late mayor’s work on the consolidation of the county’s two 911 call centers SNOCOM and SNOPAC, and the SERS emergency radio system. “His tireless work in guiding our emergency services could well be his greatest legacy,” she said.
As Mountlake Terrace mayor, Jerry Smith never missed an opportunity to promote the city and remind other elected officials of the important role it played in the Puget Sound region’s growth, local leaders recalled.
Caulfield recalled Smith’s presence at a board meeting of Sound Transit, when the agency was considering an expansion of its light rail service north via Sound Transit 2. “Originally, the line was going to end at Northgate, and folks in South Snohomish County weren’t too pleased,” Caulfield recalled. “Jerry spent a lot of time testifying in front of the Sound Transit board about why it was important to extend rail to South Snohomish County and eventually Everett.”
According to Caulfield, after representatives from cities east of Lake Washington spoke negatively about Sound Transit expanding there, Smith told the board: “If the folks on the Eastside don’t want the money, give it to North King County and South Snohomish County because we are ready to go.”
Smith’s words “got the board’s attention,” Caulfield said. “Jerry very, very quietly was a leader there. Today light rail is going to come into Mountlake Terrace, and Jerry was the one who made sure that happened.”
Councilmember Laura Sonmore recalled Smith’s influence during the city council delegation’s visits to Washington, D.C., where the mayor and councilmembers met with senators and representatives in an effort to secure federal money for a variety of city projects.
“Our city never really received federal funding before he (Smith) got on the council,” Sonmore said. “We had to work very hard and get to know our legislators.”
While Smith’s legacy includes his work on the regional and national stage, he had a hand in many local programs. In 1993, he founded Tour de Terrace, a Seafair-sanctioned summer festival for Mountlake Terrace and neighboring communities, and served as president until his death. He was also an active member of the Nile Shriner organization.
Smith was “a master” at recruiting volunteers, longtime friend Dave Mercer recalled. “He made you feel like you were really part of something bigger than yourself,” Mercer said.
After retiring from the Seattle Police Department and selling the auto parts store — a decision that wife Judi said came after her husband realized he didn’t like working indoors — Smith got into the excavation business, in a sort of roundabout way. Judi Smith explained that the mayor and his brother had rented an excavator to do some work on youth soccer fields. During the project, the machinery hit a log. “It would have cost him so much to get it fixed, that he just decided to buy it,” Judi Smith said with a laugh.
Smith would often use his excavator to help neighbors in need of assistance — free of charge. Mountlake Terrace resident Dustin Dekoekkoek recalled talking with the mayor a few years ago about plans for a large patio.
“He offered to help out and spent an entire day with his Bobcat clearing and grading my backyard,” Dekoekkoek said. “He even paid one of his employees to help out and never asked for anything from me. That’s just one of I’m sure hundreds of stories of Jerry volunteering his time and money to make Mountlake Terrace a great place for all of us to live.”
Smith was “a very generous man with a heart of gold,” Caulfield said. “What he’s done for individuals and families over the years — helping them put up a deck, build a garage, make an improvement — that was just Jerry volunteering his time and his resources.”
The youngest of 12 children, Smith was raised in Roseburg, Ore. He joined the U.S. Army out of high school and was stationed in Korea, then at Seattle’s Fort Lawton, where he met Judi. The two had been married for 56 years at the time of his death.
After leaving the military, Smith joined the Seattle Police Department. He served 18 years before retiring, turning his attention to community service.
“The city was his life,” Judi Smith said. “That was his love. He did good with that.”
In addition to his wife, Jerry Smith is survived by his son Scott and daughter-in-law Tisa of Lynnwood, plus grandson Michael Riser of Seattle and granddaughter Samatha Costello of Gainsville, Fla. He was preceded in death by his daughter Stephanie.
A memorial service is still being scheduled, but will likely be in early 2019. In addition, a memorial fund will also be established, with more details available in coming days.
— By Teresa Wippel