Clyde Smyth, Retired City & School Leader, Dies at 80
By Carol Rock, KHTS AM-1220 | January 23, 2002
Former Santa Clarita Mayor Clyde Smyth died peacefully Sunday night with his wife, Sue, at his bedside. Smyth suffered a massive stroke January 14, from which he did not recover.
Smyth's son, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, said that the family has been sustained by messages and support from the community, who have been sending tributes to them since news broke of the elder Smyth's condition last week.
"It's nice to hear from people that maybe we haven't spoken to in a decade who heard about my dad; that's the wonder of social media," Smyth said. "I've received dozens of Facebook comments and posts from people who live all across the country who heard through their families and sent their support. It's a nice reminder of the impact my dad had on this community."
Funeral services are planned at 11 a.m. Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church, 25816 Tournament Road in Valencia, with interment at Eternal Valley Memorial Park immediately following. Both gatherings are open to the public.
"Clyde was one of the truly incredible leaders in the city's history," said Councilwoman and former mayor Laurene Weste. "He was a devoted man to his country, his family and community. He gave 100 percent of his life to making things better, to educating the youth of our valley and setting the strong precedent that we benefit from today, having the best education available in the state of California for our children.
"He was a truly caring man, who listened, cared and made good decisions for the greater good of all," she continued. "Clyde was one of the fathers that really dedicated his time to making sure his sons carried forth the legacy of being good men, good leaders and good fathers.
Smyth spent a lifetime working with youth, committing himself to education at an early age, becoming a teacher, receiving his doctorate and eventually leading the William S. Hart High School District as Superintendent, from which he retired in 1997.
Twenty years ago, Smyth was named SCV Man of the Year for his many achievements.
A native of Pasadena, Hamilton Clyde Smyth served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, received a doctorate in Education from Brigham Young University and worked in the Pasadena School district in the '50s and '60s, before becoming principal of Placerita Junior High School in 1969. Five years later, he was named Superintendent of the William S. Hart High School District, where he worked for 18 years.
He and Sue moved to Newhall in 1971, where they settled to raise their two sons. Sue became a teacher with the Newhall School District and the family became involved in the community. Over the years, Smyth was active with the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts of America and the boards of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and the SCV Boys and Girls Club, where his philanthropic leadership helped both charities grow significantly.
Smyth earned a unique nickname, "Landslide Clyde" when he won a seat on the Santa Clarita City Council in 1994 by only 16 votes. It was the first election in city history where votes were recounted. He went on to serve as the city's Mayor in 1997. Cameron followed his father into the political foray, joining the City Council in 2000 and served two terms as mayor before being elected to the Assembly in 2006.
"Another pillar of our community, gone," lamented Jim Ventress, the SCV Boys and Girls Club Executive Director who worked with Smyth on a variety of projects. While a phone call from Smyth could bring about a large donation or move a political mountain, Ventress said that he was exceptionally fond of spending time with the kids at the club and enjoyed the homemade tamales that parents would bring for the annual board Christmas luncheon.
"He loved those tamales. For 20 years, he'd always ask if there were any extras, he'd like to take a few home for Sue, who couldn't make it to the luncheon. I always sent home a few more to make sure she'd really get some."
"Clyde saw more than just a building next to the park," he continued, referring to the club's Newhall facility that opened in 1992. "He saw a learning center with educational value for the kids whose parents were working or couldn't give their kids too much help, those kids would have a place to go and learn."
Smyth's frank way of dealing with issues was something Ventress especially appreciated.
"I could be honest with him," he explained. "He treated me like a human being. In many situations, Clyde was the first guy I'd talk to. He taught me that whatever you do, be the effective listener. Let others speak and get it out. Admit a mistake, assure them that you will look into the situation and get back to them.
"It sounds like common sense, but Clyde had a way…he always told me 'you will figure it out," Ventress said. "He was a very good person. He really cared."
Gary Condie and his wife, Myrna, have been friends with the Smyth family for many years and the two men worked together as well. Their professional relationship began when Condie was appointed to the William S. Hart district advisory board.
"He had a masterful way of working with the public and he was a great example for me," Condie recalled. "He had the gift of bringing people together and had the patience of Job."
The pair continued working together for the youth of the community on the board of the SCV Boys and Girls Club, where they raised money for scholarships and building funds.
"There was always more need than dollars and Clyde would provide guidance on where to place those dollars," Condie said.
"He made the valley a better place, especially for our youth," he continued. "He did that in several ways, for the school district, trying to keep up with growth, curriculum, extracurricular activities, and the funding for all of those at the same time we were trying to find funds for construction. He was always on top of things, I never saw panic in his eyes, he was always ahead of the game."
Condie counts his family as one of the many who moved to the Santa Clarita Valley for the quality of the schools, crediting Smyth.
"He certainly maintained a high reputation of public education in this valley, continually bringing in scores at the top of the state. Not only did parents move here to bring their children here, school teachers and other educators moved here to be part of his district."
"I can tell you that there are a number of people in this valley who, when they look for an example of integrity, they look to Clyde Smyth."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich added his condolences to the many pouring in on Monday morning.
"From his long career with the Hart High School District, to his work with the Council and as its Mayor, Clyde was a hard-working public servant who worked cooperatively with my office and the County to improve the quality of life for all the residents of our Santa Clarita Valley.
He leaves a very commendable legacy of leadership and service and I am proud to have known him as a colleague and friend. Christine and I send our prayers and condolences to Sue, Cameron, Colin and their families."
Former Boys and Girls Club Board President Brad Spahr helped Smyth organize the military academy admissions program for McKeon, then stood back and watched it take off under his leadership.
"Clyde was a great guy. We had a bond because we both served in military," Spahr said. "I volunteered to help him start the district and the selection process, but Clyde went on to establish the best relationship with the academy's admissions offices. Usually, there were one or two vacancies for Buck's district, but because of the relationships he'd formed, we'd have five or six kids admitted to the academies with our kids."
Spahr said that Smyth was an expert at seeking out unfilled vacancies from other Congressional districts and making local candidates available. He also credited him with keeping the dropout rate from the 25th district lower than the national average.
"Clyde was a very wise person," he continued. "When I took over as President (of the Club), he was the one I always turned to when I had a question, needed wise input or another angle or way to approach something. He would always come up with great insight."
"Everything he did for this community was to make it a better place, certainly for my brother and I and all of the families of Santa Clarita," said Cameron Smyth. "I know he's proud that my children go to the local schools and to see the school system still performing as well as it has been."
"My dad's life was about service, starting with his career in the military and then moving in to education and elected office, I think my dad couldn't have been more proud that both my brother and I followed in his path of service, my brother in the military and me in public service.
"Ultimately my dad's greatest joy was coaching," Smyth said, hesitating. "My dad was a busy guy and he always found time to do that, even when he didn't know anything about the sport, we used to joke, that even if he didn't know anything about the sport, he knew how to yell and to make us run."
He said his father always made time to be present, which he appreciates even more now.
"When I was playing sports at Hart, he always found a way to be on the campus Hart in the afternoons, he was always there for practices," he said. "Even after he slowed down, he wasn't going to miss any one of my kids' games, or my brother's boy's games. That's what brought him joy; that was what we always talked about, 'When's the next game, when's the next season, can't wait to get out there and watch the boys.' So I think that's what I got to see as him being a dad, beyond the superintendent and the mayor.
"Those are the lessons that both my brother and I have tried to take from him," he explained. "My dad's door was always open, it didn't matter, I tried to pattern myself after that; my dad had this way, even after he voted against you, or disagreed with you, you felt good about it. I have tried to emulate that, because he just had that way about him.
"They say when you're the child of a public official and you run for office yourself, you inherit 100 percent of your dad's enemies and 50 percent of his friends. I didn't have that because my dad didn't have that many. I heard over and over, 'I may not have agreed with your dad, but he always treated us with respect, he heard the issue and did it the right thing.'"
Watch: Clyde Smyth shares his family history