Former First District County Supervisor Jimmy Smith is being remembered for his hard and successful work, including work on key watershed projects, in the wake of his May 23 death.
Smith, who was 67 years old, had dealt with lymphoma since the early 1990s.
He was a county Harbor District commissioner and then served as supervisor from 2001 to 2012, when he resigned in preparation for cancer treatment.
Smith was a longtime fishing boat captain who had helmed a 50-foot vessel out of Humboldt Bay. Also a wildlife biologist, Smith had been Humboldt County’s point man on a range of fisheries-related issues and projects.
He was intensely involved in the Ferndale area Salt River restoration project, lobbied to limit Eel River water diversion and was honored by then-local Congressman Mike Thompson for chairing a seven-county watershed panel that made decisions on spending state bond funds.
Smith was also known for his diplomatic prowess. A county press release states that he “set the gold standard for inclusiveness and bridging differences to solve problems,” and “his leadership and diplomacy resonated throughout northern California.”
The day after Smith’s death at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka, members of the Board of Supervisors shared their memories of him at their weekly meeting.
Supervisor Virginia Bass said Smith was “a trusted mentor, confidant, friend and a wonderful human being” whom she often described — to his annoyance — as “the nicest guy in the world.”
Supervisor Rex Bohn began serving his first term several months early after Smith’s resignation. “I had to step in and fill the biggest shoes there ever were,” said Bohn. He added that Smith “loved to mentor us young guys and he gave me a lot of sage advice.”
Bohn remembers Smith as “the nicest guy in the world” who was devoted to his wife, Jacque. “He did everything with Jacque at his side,” said Bohn.
When Smith was first diagnosed with cancer in the early 1990s, doctors predicted he would live for only a short time longer. Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted Smith’s tenacity.
“It just was so incredibly shocking to hear of Jimmy’s passing today because honestly, he’d been through so much and come through it that you just thought he was going to keep on going,” she said.
Fennell added, “I will treasure my last private conversation with Jimmy, which just happened a little while ago — it resides like a jewel in my heart and I will treasure it forever.”
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg described Smith as “a good friend” who was of great help during Sundberg’s first term as supervisors. “I don’t know if I’ve made quicker friends with anybody in my life,” he said.
Board Chair Mark Lovelace is one of the current supervisors who served with Smith during times when the board was politically divided. Lovelace described Smith as a mediator who strived for compromise that would broadly serve the county.
“He was just a wonderful guy and when I think of him, I think of that smile that he always had, like he was keeping something inside, enjoying some little private joke,” he continued.
Smith’s public service legacy includes gaining funding for boat access improvements at the southern end of Humboldt Bay. His work there is commemorated in the naming of its primary access point — the Jimmy Smith Fields Landing Boat Launching Facility, where a memorial event honoring Smith was held on May 27.