Bud Smith: The passing of a man of grace and dignity

Ansel “Bud” Smith, Jr. died Sunday afternoon February 21, 2016, one month short of his 101st birthday.  With his death, we all mourn the passing of a wonderful man who was such a vital part of his community, our firm, and our profession.

Before he became a founding member of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, Bud served in World War II as an officer in the United States Coast Guard in the Pacific Theatre. He rose through the ranks from Officer to Division Officer and eventually to Executive Officer. He served from the Solomon Islands to the Marianas to Iwo Jima on a ship tasked with chasing enemy submarines. He was indeed a member of the Greatest Generation.
While on R&R in New Zealand, he met Roes Ashwell Makgill, the love of his life and his wife for over 50 years. They had three sons and he is survived by his sons and by three precious grandchildren.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, he went to Harvard University and the University of Michigan.  After the war, Bud and Roes came back to Grand Rapids, and soon after Bud became one of the founding members of what is now the firm of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge. The firm celebrates its 75th year anniversary this year.
Bud was one of the top Worker’s Compensation lawyers in the state during his 45 years in practice but for all of us who worked with him, he was much more than a terrific lawyer. Never a noisy cheerleader, he instead led by example.
As proper and well-mannered a man as I have known, he never came to the office without a coat and tie. When one of us asked him whether short-sleeved formal shirts were all right to wear in the summer, he observed that he thought it was all right as long as we never took our suit coats off.  So we compromised and wore long-sleeved shirts without coats and he grudgingly accepted the compromise.
His concern over decorum reached the golf course, too. One year a firm golf outing was scheduled for Kent Country Club where Bud was a member. Several of us were much better at slicing and hooking than actually hitting a golf ball, and Bud  asked us – tongue in cheek – if we wouldn’t mind playing at a public course instead, for the sake of the condition of the course and perhaps to prevent his reputation from being compromised. He was, of course, right and we happily obliged.
He taught us all respect for the rule of law. He one time said that you can disagree all you want with the judge but don’t ever disrespect the Court, a lesson he drilled into us from the beginning. We also early on learned that if you were working on one of Bud’s files, you brought your A game because he would not tolerate anything less. And he taught us that the law requires professionalism and civility at all times. We saw him get riled every once in a while but he was never the one to throw the first punch. By the same token, once the first punch was thrown, he was never one to back down.
Throughout his years in Grand Rapids, he was a major leader in the community. He worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in Grand Rapids including serving in leadership roles for United Way, the University of Michigan Alumni Association, and the Civic Theatre. He loved the arts and served in board and trustee roles for the Michigan Foundation for the Arts, the Grand Rapids Arts Council, and the Kendall College of Art & Design.
After his retirement in 1985, he and Roes had the opportunity to live in South Carolina and he later moved to Jacksonville, Florida to be near family.
Bud was a man of great class in the most gracious sense of the word and he lived his life with great dignity.
I have saved for last his most endearing characteristics: Warmth and a sense of wry humor that was never far from the surface.
He cared about us all and we knew it.
I would like to think that the lessons we learned from him about respecting the law, about professionalism and civility, about always being the best you can be, about giving back to the community, and about always keeping life in perspective are lessons that we have passed on to others and that will be passed after our generation.
On his visits to Grand Rapids after his retirement, Bud would visit the firm and marvel at its growth and success and each time say to us with an honest modesty that the firm was a wonderful legacy for him.
In the years to come, we will always strive to live up to his legacy. All of us are the better for having been a part of Bud Smith’s life.
– Bill Jack