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The man who loved to dance

Arthur “Ray” Smith dies at 97.

December 6, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Ray Smith loved to dance, and he loved to be surrounded by his fellow service members.

These two qualities brought Smith into the lives of his many friends on San Carlos Island and Fort Myers Beach.

He found his dearest friend, Pam Fillmore, alone at a barstool and invited her to dance with him.

Article Photos

Ray Smith served in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II as a glider pilot.

It was the first of many dances the two would share until his death from cancer on Nov. 19.

"We've been dancing for almost 20 years," Fillmore said. "He always joked that he picked me up at the bar."

Smith was born Jan. 22, 1920, in Wyoming, Rhode Island and attended Bryant College.

He spent his younger years in service during World War II as a U.S. Army Air Force glider pilot, participating in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day and serving overseas in Holland, Italy and Belgium.

When he returned to Rhode Island, he took over the family business and oldest Chrysler dealership in New England, FW Smith.

He retired to Fort Myers Beach more than 40 years ago, but he didn't slow down. Smith quickly integrated himself at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Moose Lodge, becoming a lifetime member at the beach VFW.

"Ray was one of those typical WW2 veterans, he exemplified the WW2 era combat vet: he comported himself honorably to everybody, stands tall, treats everybody right. You know he's somebody that you could count on," said Senior Vice Commander Rob Barnes of the Beach VFW. "Even at his age, with his medical issues, he always had a smile on his face.

Smith was always at the VFW for the live music, Barnes said. The post has published a photo and short biography about Smith on the "Everlasting" electronic billboard installed in the post to remember hi,

"It's just a way we're trying to say, thanks good buddy," Barnes said. "We're losing them now, every day. That's life, but it's sad to lose these guys. He was one of those guys who stood out."

When Smith was living on his own, he also worked for the former Summerlin Ridge Country Club.

"Ray used to mow the greens in the morning, then played 18 holes in the afternoon with his friends, then want to go out dancing," Fillmore said.

In 2004 Smith sold his home on San Carlos Island and moved into Fillmore's rental unit next door. The two did everything together, from dancing to grocery shopping and going on vacations.

Smith loved dancing so much that the entertainers at the posts knew to play his favorite song, "Release Me," by Engelbert Humperdinck.

"He always requested that song. That was his jam, and Pam and Ray would dance to that," said Alex Harron, a local entertainer.

Smith took a liking to Harron, and would be sure to attend the VFW every Tuesday when the singer would be performing.

Harron is not a veteran, but he plays at all the local veteran clubs and is a member for the veteran's advisory committee in Bonita Springs. When he plays, he always makes a point to recognize and honor the WW2 veterans listening in audience.

"WW2 veterans are few and far between, and the few that still have their faculties are rare," he said. "Ray made it through three glider missions, took care of his wife, and made it to 97."

Smith's wife, Dorothy, died in 1997 after a condition left her wheelchair bound.

Smith became a friend of Harron and his family. When he moved into Barrington Terrace in 2016 for full-time care, Harron brought his 5-month-old daughter, Harper, over for a visit.

"She was almost 5 months old, and he was 97 and a half," Harron said. "He lit up like crazy. He was an awesome guy."

Harron got to help Smith and Fillmore get one last dance together. On Veteran's Day, the Moose Lodge on Fort Myers Beach gathered as many attendees as they could to honor Smith for his service to his country in a special celebration for him. Fillmore helped transport her friend to the Moose from Barrington's, and he ended the evening doing what he loved: dancing to "Release Me" with Fillmore.

"We sent him out with a bang on Veteran's Day," Harron said.

Smith's body was transferred back to Rhode Island to be buried with a military service at Wood River Cemetery. He is survived by son Randall Smith of Rhode Island; his grandchildren, Dane Smith of Canton, Massachusetts, and Erica Smith of Rhode Island; and three great-grandchildren, Maddie, Torrin and Rosalie Smith.

The American Legion Post 274, 899 Buttonwood Drive, will hold a memorial for Smith Saturday, Dec. 9 at 11 a.m.

 
 

 

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