CHESTER — St. Joseph RC Church was packed Thursday as hundreds of area residents turned out to participate in the funeral service for the late, longtime Deep River First Selectman Richard H. “Smitty” Smith.
The mass of Christian burial followed a three-hour wake and viewing Tuesday evening at Deep River Town Hall where more than 1,000 citizens turned out to file through the second floor auditorium to pay final respects to Smith, who died suddenly on March 25 at age 65. Smith, a Democrat first elected in 1989, was the longest serving chief elected official in Middlesex County, and one of the longest serving municipal elected leaders in the entire state.
The hour-long service had much of the pageantry of a state funeral, with a squad of Connecticut state troopers in full dress uniform and a police bagpiper, along with dozens of uniformed volunteer firefighters with the large ladder trucks from both the Deep River and Essex volunteer fire departments. Smith had also served as a part-time town police officer since 1973.
Present were many of the current selectmen from area towns, but the crowd also included former first selectmen from towns such as Essex, Killingworth, and Old Lyme, who worked with Smith on regional issues during his long 26-year tenure. Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman was one of the speakers, describing Smith as a “cheerleader for economic development and a relentless advocate for small towns.” Wyman said Smith’s legacy would be, “Serve your community proudly.”
Grieving town hall employees filled the front seats of the church, with Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani and selectmen’s assistant Gina Sopneski speaking about their fond memories of Smith. Bibbiani said Smith was an elected leader, who was always “approachable to everyone,” adding, “Dick Smith was sincere, he was honest, he was loyal, and he was funny.”
After the service, with the bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” Smith was laid to rest in a plot at the cemetery that is part of the church property on Rte. 154.