My Profile guest this month is very tall and soft spoken, a gentlemen in every sense of the word! When he speaks, his words are very deliberate, well thought out and like the Kupuna (Hawaiian elder) he has become; when he speaks, others listen! Big Island born and raised, our Profile guest grew up in the Kokoiki, Kohala area of Hawaii, attending Kohala Elementary before completing his 7th – 12th grade education at the Kamehameha Schools in 1953. He is from an Ali`i lineage, his paternal grandmother traces back through Umilaliloa; Reidar truly has a presence, a mana, an aura inherited from his warrior ancestors of old Hawaii. Ironically, everything about him shouts out his Hawaiian legacy except, perhaps his surname. Meet REIDAR SMITH. His Mom is Jennie Uaia, descendant of the Helekuni lineage of Maui; his Dad is William Smith Jr. of the Purdy/Stevens clans of Waimea. Reidar was the fourth of five Smith children (Gavin, Maile, William, Reidar and Elwood) all of whom were Kamehameha graduates.
While I personally admire all of those whose life stories I have previous profiled, I have to admit that my admiration and respect for Reidar Smith is second to none! Reidar Smith has achieved more in his seventy years on this earth than most! Retired Colonel, US Army….a retired Engineering Manager after 35 years at the Boeing Company…..a current Vice President and Board of Directors member of the Pacific American Foundation (PAF), a national non-profit agency that helps Pacific Islander communities throughout the USA and the Pacific establish health and educational programs for themselves….co-founder and President of the Northwest Association of Pacific Americans (NAPA)…on the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association/NW Region’s Executive Board…member of the U of Washington’s Minority Community Advisory Board…member of the NAPALI Leadership Institute which trains emerging leaders of Pacific Island communities! Most importantly, everything Reidar does in the community is voluntary!
Reidar Smith graduated from Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He committed to the US Army ROTC program while at Oregon State and consequently was required to complete a minimum military obligation after finishing college. As a Regular Army Officer, 2d Lt Reidar Smith had to choose between undergoing Army Ranger or Airborne training. Though he’s not fond of heights, he chose to go Airborne and jump out of airplanes if only because the Ranger training course was a long longer (on top of which Reidar didn’t think too highly of swimming around with snakes in the Florida Everglades!) After five years on active duty, Reidar opted to pursue a civilian career because by then he was a family man with a young daughter to raise. Reidar put his Engineering degree to work as a Boeing employee in 1962 where he remained until his retirement in 1995. Reidar continued his military career in the US Army Reserves, retiring as a Colonel after 30 years of service.
Reidar’s beautiful wife Sharon Betts Smith is a native of Ocasta, WA which she describes as a “suburb” of Westport, that famous little fishing town down on the southern Washington coast. Sharon and Reidar have a family of six (son Lon, daughters Michele, Daphne, Erin, son-in-law Adam plus brand new mo`opuna/granddaughter Addie Keahi!) On the personal side, both Reidar and Sharon love music and both are very good singers if you can coerce them to sing in public!
Perhaps typical of a mechanical engineer, Reidar is a believer in facts and statistical data which he combines with his prolific reading/knowledge of Hawaiian philosophies and politics to form his educated comments and recommendations. Unlike many Hawaiians who espouse soap box politics/personal rhetoric when discussing issues (like the Akaka Bill of sovereignty or the Hawaiian Homestead program,) Reidar supports his comments with irrefutable facts and statistics!
Reidar is truly a multi-task oriented guy who is working on at least six different projects at this time. His primary focus is on improving the health, the wealth and the education status of all Pacific Islanders with particular emphasis towards working with families. Among his current projects, Reidar helped create a NAPA “emergency scholarship” program for students at Seattle University and the U of Washington that can provide quick, short term financial aid for those who might otherwise have to leave school. Reidar is leading a project in Washington State to identify and collect data on Pacific Islander/Hawaiian students and separate them from being grouped with American Asians. Reidar’s hottest project at this time is working with the Hana Group in Honolulu, a Native Hawaiian group that is creating jobs, especially high tech, for Hawaiians. In a way, it creates a dilemma for us because if approved, the project would provide well-paying jobs for a number of our people back home in Hawaii (that’s the good part)…the not so good is that approval would mean that in a few months our Pacific NW Hawaiian community would be losing two of its brightest stars as Reidar and Sharon Smith would move back to Hawaii so Reidar can manage the project!
Mahalo Reidar Smith…. keep doing all you do to help those who most need that help: our own Pacific Islander/Hawaiian communities…Reidar: you da man!
Until next time…be kind to each other….me ke Aloha pumehana……Danny