Douglas LeRoy Smith was born in a Fremont, Neb. hospital located in a small house on April 27, 1937 to Kenneth and Grace Smith—the same day that the final rivet was driven into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. His big sister, Suzanne, would be waiting for her little brother at the family home.
He lived in Fremont from elementary school through college. His father was a World War I veteran who died of cancer when Douglas was three years old. Fremont proved to be a supportive place for the family, where Douglas recalled that his widowed mother built a new house during World War II, enlisting the help—and extracting the maximum discounts—from local tradesmen. Douglas would recall tales from his childhood that would rival Huck Finn: everything from sailing flattened popcorn boxes toward the screen from the movie house balcony to rolling a huge tractor tire down the Broad Street viaduct that he said luckily didn’t hurt anyone. Douglas told of how when he and his friends would see a pretty girl at a stoplight, he would honk the horn of his friend’s car and he and his buddies would quickly duck down, leaving the friend alone to stare red-faced at the young woman.
Douglas joined accounting firm Arthur Anderson as an auditor directly after graduating from Midland Lutheran College in 1959. In the original era of “Mad Men,” Douglas adhered to the firm’s strict dress code of white shirt, skinny tie and brimmed hat.
He married Elsie Holm in 1961 after meeting in college. When he went to ask his future father-in-law’s permission to marry Elsie, Douglas assured him that he would join the Lutheran Church as Douglas was raised a Baptist. He went on to become a charter member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Omaha, Neb. and later joined Faith Lutheran Church in Prairie Village, Kan. They built a home in Omaha with the family later settling in Overland Park where they lived for 57 years.
Douglas worked as a vice president at the National Fidelity Life Insurance company in Kansas City, Mo. before taking the top job as chief administrator of the Johnson County Wastewater District. At Douglas’s retirement party in 2005, he was surprised by his colleagues with the renaming of a treatment facility on College Blvd. in his honor—it is now known as the Douglas L. Smith Middle Basin Treatment Facility.
Active in politics and community service for decades, Douglas was a city councilman in Overland Park and also served as chairman of the Mid-America Regional Council. During his time at MARC he (along with Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Richard Berkley) brought the emergency 9-1-1 service to the region. Douglas was also a longtime member of Cosmopolitan International, a service organization where he enjoyed having weekly breakfasts with his fellow “Cosmos.”
Douglas served as a board member of the Hollis Renewal Center during which his common sense and administration skills helped the center grow its mission beyond its original Lutheran calling to a broader reach.
One of Douglas’s interests was movies; after reading an article in the Kansas City Star about the Telluride Film Festival, Douglas and Elsie went on to attend the festival for the next 24 years together. Douglas would occasionally chat with Hollywood stars (once including Clint Eastwood) as they waited in line for a show.
His ease with strangers and his ability to talk with anyone and make them laugh was one of Douglas’s most endearing traits. A simple trip to the grocery store could often last much longer than expected and Douglas would return with a story about whom he had met. His curiosity about the world was constantly growing and led to extensive world travel with trips that included the Soviet Union in 1976, many tours of Europe and a notable mission trip to Africa with Atonement Lutheran Church that helped in setting up an eye clinic in Tanzania.
A lifetime interest in cars and World War ll history fed his love of reading which continued until the last weeks of his life.
In addition to Elsie, his wife of 60 years, Douglas leaves behind daughter Rebecca, son Jason and his partner, Michael; and the daughters from his only sister, Suzanne; Pam Rowe, Jill Wobig Wegman and Sandra Soukup. His sister Suzanne preceded him in death.
Gifts may be given to Hollis Renewal Center and Atonement’s Missional Life Program in his name.
A memorial service will be held at Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kan. later this year.