Gene Smith passed away unexpectedly, but quietly, at his home in Nassau Bay, Texas on October 10, 2012. Joyce H. Verrill Smith, his wife of 67 years, died in April 2012.
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Gene was a beloved father, grandfather, and uncle, a dedicated patriot, business pioneer, and local civic leader. Although he was a Midwesterner spending his early years far from the coast, Gene's life led him to the sea: first in service to his country in the Navy, then a lifelong joy in boating as a pleasure and racing sailor, and finally a passion for worldwide travel with innumerable cruising voyages.
Gene was born November 17, 1923 in Princeville, Illinois to Sadie and Milton Smith, the second of two sons. In 1941, he left home to attend Stanford University in California. He made the baseball team as a walk-on but the team was disbanded shortly thereafter due to World War II. Gene worked several jobs to put himself through school, including living in the university fire house as a student fireman and hashing (waiting tables) at the girls' dorm, Roble House. One day while hashing, Gene critiqued an attractive, new hasher's cleaning technique. Joyce's not so nice response with a damp towel resulted in a lifelong, partnership. Gene joined the Navy after completing his chemical engineering degree in three and a half years. Attending midshipmen's school, Gene received his officer's commission and then married Joyce on March 14, 1945 at the Stanford Chapel. Gene was immediately deployed and served on a variety of minesweepers until a few months after the end of World War II.
After the War, Gene and Joyce settled in southern California, where he began a 40 year career with Shell Oil Company starting at the Wilmington Refinery in Long Beach. One of his early projects, was assisting with the development of the fuel for Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. Gene took great pride in his work, in particular the initiative he took to increase Shell's investments in pollution controls for oil refining operations, many years before broad public concern for the environment. Early in his career, he was named Technologist of the Year. In 1951, Gene was called back to active duty during the Korean Conflict serving on the destroyer, USS George E. MacKenzie. Returning to Shell Oil in 1952, his career took Gene and his family to The Netherlands, New York, and finally Houston, Texas.
In 1964, the Smiths were the 40th family to move into a new community, Nassau Bay, located across the street from the Manned Spacecraft Center and ultimately the home to half of the men who walked on the moon. In 1968, Gene used his professional expertise in pollution control to serve the Nassau Bay community as the elected President of the newly formed Harris County Water Control and Improvement District #83. In 1970 when the homeowners of the Nassau Bay development decided to incorporate, the citizens of the new city elected Gene as their first mayor where he went on to serve two more terms.
Gene retired from Shell Oil in 1984 as Manager of Environmental Affairs. Not content with retirement, he worked with the then new Pilko & Associates consulting group.
Gene's great passion was for sailing and racing at the Houston Yacht Club, where he also served on the Board of Trustees for several years. In the late 1970's, Gene and Joyce traded their racing sloop for cruise liners and enjoyed extensive worldwide travel over the next thirty years. They visited every continent - including Antarctica - and collected many dear friends from Europe, Australia, and South America.
In addition to Joyce, Gene was preceded in death by two daughters, Janet L. Bozarth and Barbara L. Moses, and his brother, Milton B. Smith. He is survived by his son, Richard Gene Smith and wife, Yuh-rong of Northborough, MA; his daughter Christine Joyce Smith-Byerly and husband, Jim, of Houston; grandsons, Stuart Gene Smith and wife, Joan Laughlin of Houston and Daniel L. Moses of Pittsburgh, PA; as well as many beloved nieces and nephews.
Gene's wishes were to be interred with Joyce in the Verrill Family plot, in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut. Graveside services will be Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 10:00 am. Those wishing to make contributions in his memory, please consider the Princeville Heritage Museum, 325 N. Ostrom Avenue, Princeville, Illinois 61559 or The
Published in Houston Chronicle from Oct. 28 to Oct. 29, 2012