FALMOUTH — David Smith’s dedication to service began, it could be said, at birth, when he was born with no right hand.
“Having a disability can make you more sensitive to what’s going on around you,” Smith said.
Other major factors came into play, too. Smith attended a Jesuit school in New York City, for example, and noted that, “the Jesuits pounded into you the concept of giving back.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a journalism degree, David went on to earn his law degree at Fordham University.
“A law school education is good for all kinds of things,” he said, “because it challenges you and teaches you how to think.”
During his career, Smith successfully applied his legal and administrative skills to law firms and other organizations in New York City, where his last position before “retirement” was serving as associate counsel for the Office of Professional Medical Conduct for the New York State Department of Health.
Even during his working years, Smith threw himself into community service. He served as chairman of the Community Service Society, a social welfare and advocacy organization with an annual budget of $13 million; as a trustee for Barrier Free Living, an agency devoted to providing transitional housing for people with disabilities, and as chairman of the Health Systems Agency of the City of New York, an agency dedicated to health-care planning policy.
When Smith retired in 2007 and moved to Falmouth, he immediately sought out challenging and rewarding service activities. “When you’re first retired,” he said, “it’s like falling off a cliff with no office to go to.”
A week before Smith moved to Maine with his wife Ann, a fellow board member suggested he consider volunteering for the Community Counseling Center in Portland. He was quickly recruited to the board and currently serves as chairman of the organization dedicated, he said, “to providing quality mental health care at the least cost possible.”
Mary Jane Krebs, chief executive officer of the center, said “David is fabulous. He has brought real professionalism and insights to the board. He has a great head, a great heart, and he’s always willing to help. I trust him implicitly.”
For some people, major responsibility on just one nonprofit board would suffice. But Smith is not “some people.”
He discovered that the Southern Maine Agency on Aging was seeking volunteers to help people who were about to retire navigate the various decisions associated with going on Medicare. He went through the necessary training and soon was asked to lead monthly seminars on the subject.
Smith leads five two-hour seminars a month, each attended by 12-18 people. And he joined the SMAA board.
“It’s challenging and fun to help people understand a complex process,” Smith said.
Eileen Whynot, communications director for the agency, said “David is a fabulous listener, and he thoughtfully answers questions, often staying at the end of seminars to answer questions. He keeps up-to-date in the ever-changing health insurance world, and he can often answer complex questions. If not, he’ll doggedly find explanations or answers and follow up with his ‘student.’
“David is also called upon to speak to community groups explaining the ABC’s of Medicare as a valued member of SMAA’s Medicare Team, devoting many hours of his time to accomplish this high-level work.”
Mary Hadlock, Medicare Volunteer Coordinator of SMAA, shared Eileen’s deep appreciation and respect for Smith’s significant efforts: “Just today we got an e-mail about one of David’s seminars, which said, ‘Nice work shedding absolute clarity on one of the most complicated and intricate things we will do in life.’”
As if these two major commitments weren’t enough, Smith has also found time to join the Rotary Club of Portland, an organization that he said “does very good work.”
In just five short years, this man with a common name, but an uncommon dedication to service, has made an extraordinary impact on the lives of countless people in Portland and beyond.
David Smith, at home in Falmouth, has “retired” to a life of volunteerism with several southern Maine nonprofits.
One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: firstname.lastname@example.org.