When George Smith was inducted into the Queen City Hall of Fame in 1996, he was described as a Manchester icon who wore many hats to serve his community. That sentiment rings true today as friends showed their appreciation by saluting Smith back.
Hours after news of his death Tuesday began to spread, Paul Lemire said condolences throughout the state, region and country were received at Sweeney Post Wednesday.
“You name it, American Legion programs, seniors, various organizations, they were just pouring in and I wasn’t surprised,” said Lemire, athletic director for the post’s baseball program. “George was a tireless worker who did so much for so many people. His service is unmatched. I woke up (yesterday) and told my wife that I already miss him. My heart goes out to his wife, Ruthie, and the entire family.”
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas praised Smith as an alderman for eight years and his service to youths. “There’s no question George was someone who wanted to make sure the youths had a quality facility to play in. No one loved Gill Stadium more than George Smith. That stadium was a big part of his life.”
Last year when Smith stepped down after 36 years as the athletic director at Sweeney Post, he remained committee chairman of the Centennial Birthday Celebration of Gill Stadium set for Sept. 8.
“Sadly he won’t be there, but he put in a lot of work over the last 10 months to make sure we’d celebrate the stadium’s 100th anniversary,” said former alderman and longtime friend Mike Lopez. “George was a giant of a man. When he gave you his word, he stuck by it.”
Lopez said many of George’s friends were “carrying heavy hearts” yesterday including, John Cashin. “For decades John was George’s right hand man. George and John were so close and did so much for the post together over the years.”
Guild “Bushie” Hill, who served 35 total years with Post 79 and nine years as the state chairman of American Legion baseball, said his post and others always tried to emulate Sweeney Post under Smith’s leadership.
“George set a precedent for others to follow,” said Hill. “George did much of the grunt work and we respected it. When our post hosted the World Series at Gill Stadium in 1976 and 1977 we were quick to add George, John Cashin and his staff to help us. George always wanted to help kids and like so many others, I will miss him.”
George “Butch” Joseph who served as Director of the Manchester Babe Ruth League for three decades, said “what George accomplished in a lifetime would take others twice the time to do. When it came to helping our league, George was always the first to call. Whether it was donating money or giving us equipment, he wanted to help kids. He’s going to be sorely missed.”
As a youth Smith played football for both St. Joseph and the former Bishop Bradley High, played baseball for Sweeney Post, and played both varsity lacrosse and basketball at New England College.
He served many years as a junior high and high school director for the CYO basketball program in the city. He coached St. Raphael to a New England basketball championship in 1969.
In football, he was a longtime high school referee who also served as commissioner of the statewide Pop Warner organization.Smith and his brother, Denny, spent a few years coaching under the late head coach John “Jumbo” Reilly.Sweeney Post has won 30 baseball state titles, 10 under Smith’s direction, including a state-record six straight from 1977-82, with Reilly as head coach.
In 1982 Sweeney earned a World Series berth at Boyerstown, Pa. and another World Series berth at Danbury, Va., in 2002.