remembered for generosity
By Scott Mitchell Johnson
PRESQUE ISLE – Longtime grocer Bill Smythe is being remembered as a generous, community-minded man who strived to make the Star City better. Smythe passed away Jan. 21 at age 57.
A Calais native, Smythe came to Presque Isle in 1975 where he worked for the Nissen Baking Co. In 1977, he started working for Milliken Tomlinson Co. and was in charge of retail marketing of all IGA stores south of Presque Isle. In 1980, Smythe acquired the former First National Store and opened it as North Plaza IGA Foodliner. Then, in 1990, he moved the store to the old Zayre’s location on the opposite end of the plaza and renamed it Smythe’s IGA Plus.
Someone who knew Smythe very well was friend and local businessman Tom Gagnon.
“He’s been my best friend for 25 years,” he said. “I saw him almost every day for 25 years. We played a lot of golf together. I’m sitting in my condo in Florida right now and his condo is right beside me. I’m looking at a boat we’ve got parked down below that we own together. We’d eat dinner together or have coffee every morning; we were close friends.
A BOATING ENTHUSIAST, Bill Smythe was also a member of the Aroostook Valley Sail and Power Squadron. Here, Smythe sails off the coast of Florida. The longtime Presque Isle grocer passed away Jan. 21 at age 57.
“Bill couldn’t sit still; once he got something done he was off onto something else. He always had something going. He needed to be out front with everything going – he wanted to be and was willing to be,” said Gagnon. “Bill was always very giving. Two months ago my wife was having a fundraiser for someone and we told Bill and the groceries were there. He was the go-to guy. It’s a big loss to Aroostook County.”
Claudia Stevens first met Smythe through the Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce.
“When I was hired as the executive director in 1993, Billy was no longer on the board, but he was still a very integral part of the chamber and was the chamber’s representative on the Presque Isle Industrial Council,” said Stevens. “I remember when I took the job, I received a plant from the florist and it was from Billy welcoming me to the chamber. That was my first introduction to him.
“From there, the relationship grew; he always financially supported the chamber no matter what we were trying to do. Probably one of the biggest things I remember about him is his involvement with the Holiday Light Parade. He always used to help out a great deal with that,” she said. “Billy was also instrumental in helping with the Christmas lighting. He was part of the group that had raised funds to purchase the big wreaths that we used to have that hung up on Main Street. Every year he would help me get them cleaned up and get the bulbs changed and back out. Billy had a real passion for the chamber and was even involved in the fund-raising efforts – along with Roger Hoffses – when they built the current chamber building.”
Stevens said Smythe not only had a passion for his own business to succeed, but for the community to flourish, as well.
“He was willing to do whatever it took to make Presque Isle a better place – a better place to live, work and do business,” she said, “and he supported that with not only his money but his time. Billy will be missed; it leaves such a void. Presque Isle has lost a great community member.”
Presently Smythe had owned three Save-A-Lot stores with business partner, Kevin Kinney, who used to work for Smythe as a bagger.
“I used to work at the North Plaza IGA Foodliner when I was a sophomore in high school and worked my way through and moved up to the big store with him,” said Kinney. “I went through high school and college while still working there, and then after college, I started my own lawn care company. Even then I did a lot of work for him.
“Along the way, I had wanted to get out of the lawn care business and asked him if there was something out there that I could purchase as a store, and he proposed that we be partners,” he said. “We ended up purchasing three Save-A-Lot stores (Caribou, Farmington and Brewer).”
Kinney said Smythe was always “a great friend.”
“He always had a comment that made you look at the situation in a different way,” said Kinney. “You might be thinking one way and he’d be thinking another way, and could always get you to see things differently. We worked well together that way.
“Bill was a big part of the community and was always generous in his ways. Whether it be a CEO of a national company or the guy who mowed lawns, Bill related to everybody and treated everyone with respect. It didn’t matter who you were,” he said. “He will be greatly missed.”
Though competitors in the grocery business, the Graves family also had a great amount of respect for Smythe.
“The Graves family and our associates would like to offer Peggy and also Bill’s family, our condolences. While we were never personal friends, we had tremendous respect for one another in our business dealings,” said Bob Graves Jr., co-owner of Graves’ Shop ‘n Save. “Bill has shared with our family many times that he believed our competition with one another is what led each one of us to excel in the supermarket business. And, as is typical with ‘County’ relationships, even during our days as competitors, Bill was a loyal supporter of the Logan Graves Foundation and Logan’s tournament.
“Over the years Bill has been a great asset to the community and he will certainly be missed,” Graves said.
Active in such organizations as the Northern Maine Fair Association, Presque Isle Rotary Club, Elks Club and the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club, Smythe is survived by his wife, Peggy; two sisters, Catherine Carson and her husband, Kenneth, of Robbinston and Susan Smythe of Portland, several nieces and nephews, and many special friends.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Duncan-Graves Funeral Home in Presque Isle. Spring interment will be in Fairmount Cemetery. Donations in Smythe’s memory can be made to County Dialysis, 21 North St., Presque Isle, Maine 04769 or the National Kidney Foundation of Maine, 630 Congress St., P.O. Box 1134, Portland, ME 04104-1134.