WESTBROOK – A tradition in the Smith family goes back generations: Men go to sea.

Capt. Robert W. Smith sailed tankers for Gulf Oil. Capt. George Edwin Smith, his first son, was a pilot in the Panama Canal.

So when his second son, Robert W. Smith Jr., graduated from Maine Maritime Academy in 1962, there was little doubt what he’d do. But there was also a surprise. Instead of training to be at the helm, Robert Smith Jr. chose to work below decks, as an engineer. His decision led to some good-natured rivalry in a family of sea captains.

For 30 years, Mr. Smith sailed the world, spending time in India, Turkey and Sudan, and gaining a strong appreciation for Maine and his country.

Mr. Smith died Thursday, following complications from a long illness. He was 68.

Mr. Smith sailed on freighters. He became the youngest chief engineer at American Export Lines. He later worked for U.S. Lines and Farrell Lines.

“He was thankful to be an American,” said his son, Robert H. Smith, Esq. “He saw some grinding poverty. It made him appreciate Maine’s environmental beauty and the freedom we enjoy.”

It also reinforced his conservative values, said his son, who described his father as a “staunch Republican, who felt the United States wasn’t moving in the right direction.”

“Politics was always something that was debated in our home,” his son said. “He wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion.”

Smith was frequently gone six months out of the year. When he was home, in winter, he enjoyed snowmobiling. A popular local trip took the family from Pride’s Corner to Sebago Lake. One year, he rented a cabin in Aroostook County.

Mr. Smith also was fond of black Labrador retrievers and had four over the years. Three are buried in the pet cemetery next to a Colonial-era human cemetery by the family’s home in Pride’s Corner.

One of the dogs, Max, is still living. Mr. Smith’s son said that when he and his mother returned from the hospital after Mr. Smith had passed away, the dog seemed to know that he had lost his master.

“You could just tell that the dog sensed something had happened,” he said.

Mr. Smith also was a big sports fan. He wouldn’t have been happy, his son remarked, that both the Boston Celtics and Red Sox were clobbered the day after his death. Noting that the Red Sox were playing again on Saturday, his son mused that his father was probably “up there,” looking down and watching the game.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

[email protected]