Sullivan County Historical Society History Preserver Award 1998
William Galbraith Smith (1920-1998)
William Galbraith Smith was born in 1920 in Kings Park, New York. The family moved to Ossining, New York where Bill’s father was a dietitian at Sing Sing Prison. When Bill was twelve, his father died. His Irish immigrant mother moved with her two sons to Stone Ridge, New York. Bill attended and graduated from Kingston City High School. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and during the World War II served in the European Theater of War in England and Scotland with the 710th Bomb Squadron. Bill was honorably discharged as Technical Sergeant in September 1945. He served in the Air Force Reserves from 1945 until 1953.
After his discharge from the military, Bill went home to Stone Ridge and began working for the New York Telephone Company as an installer. In 1945 New York Telephone “transferred” Bill to Monticello. His transfer consisted of a ride from the Telephone Company garage in Kingston to Broadway in Monticello. He was dropped off with his suitcase and about $40.00 to his name. His life in Monticello and Sullivan County had begun.
Bill met and married Marjorie Chase Durland, a local girl with deep family roots in Monticello and the Town of Thompson. After many house moves in their first few years together, Bill and Sam (Marge) raised their four children (Michael, Katherine, Judy and Virginia) and contributed to community life from their home base on Ann Street in Monticello for over forty years.
Bill worked for New York Telephone for the next forty years, spending most of that time as a switchman. Bill was instrumental in bringing the Communication Workers of America Union into the Hudson Valley to represent the telephone workers. He remained very active in the CWA and the Telephone Pioneers of America, a civic-minded organization, until his retirement in 1985. In addition to working for New York Telephone, Bill always worked at several other jobs. He was a sales representative at a travel service in Ellenville and a registered investment representative for the First Monticello Securities Corporation.
Bill and Marge became active in the Presbyterian Church in Monticello. Bill served on the Session, the Budget Committee and with the Boy Scouts. He quietly helped countless friends, family members, neighbors and acquaintances get their financial houses in order, invest for the future, find jobs and/or just work through some of life’s problems.
Through the years Gladys Durland, Bill’s mother-in-law, would cajole Marge and Bill into going to Historical Society meetings, helping here and there with projects at the old museum on Bank Street and just getting involved. Gladys’s passion for history and its preservation took Marge and Bill prisoners. They caught the history bug in the late 1960’s and Bill’s second life in Sullivan County had begun.
In 1969 Bill became the first historian for the Village of Monticello and held that post until he moved outside the Village in 1992. In 1970 he became one of the founders of the Hudson Valley Historical Association and served as president from 1972 through 1974. During 1971, Marge, Bill and a small band of Sullivan County Historical Society members moved the Museum to its new home in Hurleyville. Bill was instrumental in securing the old school house in Hurleyville for the Sullivan County Museum, Art and Cultural Center. In 1974 he was named Sullivan County Historian after the death of the then County Historian, Manville B. Wakefield. Bill held that position until 1992 and greatly expanded its responsibilities. Within the title of County Historian, Bill was designated Building Director for the Sullivan County Museum, Art and Cultural Center as well as County Records Management Officer, entailing responsibilities for all County Records. Also, in 1974 Bill began his twenty-four-year association with the Dr. Frederick A. Cook Society and served as a catalyst in bringing that organization and its invaluable artifacts to Sullivan County. As a founding Director, Bill would go on to serve as a vice-president and an Executive Director. In 1976 Bill and Marge were Co-Chairpersons for Sullivan County’s participation in the New York State bicentennial Commission.
Although outside the realm of history, in 1981 Bill became a charter member of the Board of Directors of the Sullivan County United Way. He served as chairperson of the Admissions Committee and a member of the Budget and Allocations Committee. In 1985 he helped to reorganize the County Historians Association of New York State and served as a 1st Vice-President. He was also a member and past President of Region 111, Municipal Historians of New York State.
1990 was a year Bill never forgot. In September of that year, the University of the State of New York awarded him the Albert Corey Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to State and local history. He was the first County Historian to win this Award and was deeply touched by the honor. In 1992 Bill became a Director of the Catskill Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum, a position he held to his death. 1992 was to be a year of tremendous change for Bill and Marge. That was the year they would move from their home of forty years on Ann Street to their “new” home on Wanaksink Lake. The property had been Marge’s grandparents’ summer getaway in the 1920’s and served as a summer camp for the family over the next sixty years. This wonderful personal change was to be the backdrop for the most emotionally devastating change in Bill’s long career in community service. The County Historian position, an avocation that he loved second only to his own family, was to be his no longer. Quite simply, it broke his heart and for a time his spirit. However, braced by that never say die attitude that marked Bill’s life and in order to stay in the history game, in 1993 at the age of 72, Bill started his own consulting business, Historic Perspectives. Bill loved history. As Senator Cook wrote to him in 1993, “I know of no county historian who has been more diligent, more creative and more effective in carrying out their duties. Through the years, I have appreciated your good counsel on so many subjects. I have admired your creativity and resourcefulness. I’ve enjoyed the products of your labor which have so enriched the lives of the people of Sullivan County.”
Bill was a very private man with an amazing variety of life experiences. He was also a very basic man with basic principles: work hard, save, honor your word, love your family, serve your community and fight for what you believe in. Bill Smith fought very hard for Sullivan County. Many of you who will read this have fought with him and some against him. What eluded many was the fact that Bill had no personal agenda for what he did. He fought for what he thought to be right. It was not personal; it was for the cause. In the final analysis he was a man of conviction.
Bill Smith died on May 18, 1998. He was alone and working (always working) in the yard on the lake that he and Sam loved.
Lovingly written by
Virginia Durland Smith