Owen C. Smith, longtime Edgartown summer resident, died peacefully at first light on Feb. 5, 2017, at his home in Big Pine Key, Fla., surrounded by his wife of 50 years, Chris, and three children, Phil, Andy, and Sally. After battling and beating a rare form of cancer for more than five years, he died of an equally rare neurological disorder, progressive supranuclear palsy. He was 75.
Owen’s love for Martha’s Vineyard started at an early age. As a child he summered with his parents and two brothers on Tashmoo Lake, and played tennis at the East Chop Tennis Club. In the 1980s he began coming to Edgartown every summer with his wife and three children, where they learned to sail and play tennis at the Edgartown Yacht Club.
Owen was a lifetime member of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society. His Island-grown blueberries, cultivated in his backyard in Edgartown, garnered him blue ribbons at the Agricultural Fair year after year. His brace of beagles, while not as successful as the blueberries, brought home the occasional ribbon as well. Owen was a frequent competitor in the Chilmark Road Race, happy to finish regardless of place. An avid sportsman, Owen was a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod & Gun Club. He was also a member of the Chappaquiddick Beach Club and the Edgartown Reading Room. Owen was a member of the congregation at St. Andrew’s Church, where six of his grandchildren were baptized.
Owen was vigorously involved in the Edgartown Yacht Club, which he served in various capacities, eventually becoming commodore and helping establish the club’s Sailing Center. Owen raced his Herreshoff 12½ Bonnes Mares, his Sabre 38 Upbeat, his J42 of the same name, and his J28 Resurgo with great distinction. The Upbeat Cup, named after Owen’s yacht in which he sailed around the Island more times than any other boat in its class, is now awarded to the first-place non-spinnaker finisher in the ’Round the Island Race. Owen could be seen on a typical weekend inspecting visiting yachts in the harbor and watching the races in the outer harbor in his distinctive navy-blue motorboat Doubletime. He was also a member of American Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, and the New York Yacht Club. He cruised in the Virgin Islands, Grenadines, and Hebrides, and competed in six Newport to Bermuda Races, among other offshore adventures. He also completed a trans-Atlantic passage to Kinsale, Ireland, on Upbeat, departing from Edgartown harbor on a blustery June day, passing the Chappy Ferry under full sail with a spinnaker flying.
Owen attended the Lawrenceville School (’59) and graduated from Princeton University (AB ’63). At Princeton, Owen was president of his eating club (Cloister Inn), and was stroke on the national-championship lightweight freshman crew. Owen then graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School (JD ’66), and had a successful career as an international lawyer.
Owen served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as captain in the 23rd Medical Battalion, for which he received two Bronze Stars, Combat and Expert Field Medical Badges, and numerous other decorations. His military service continued throughout his life as a captain in the Army Reserve, judge advocate for the New York Commandery of the Military Order of Foreign Wars, and, most recently, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Owen’s tenacious devotion to duty, extraordinary personal drive, wit, humor, and charm were felt by all who encountered him. As much as he gave to others, Owen gave most to his family. He is survived by his wife, Christine M. Smith, of Big Pine Key, Fla.; his three children, Philip C. Smith II and his wife Chloe of Winterport, Maine, Andrew C. von S. Smith and his wife Shannon of New Canaan, Conn., and Sarah S. Betz and her husband Billy of Darien, Conn.; his two brothers, Lawther O. Smith and his wife Linda of Doylestown, Pa., and Richard C. Smith and his wife Connie of Pinellas Park, Fla.; and seven grandchildren, Charles and Hazel (Phil), Adeline and Andrew Jr. (Andy), and Oliver, Margaret, and Louisa (Sally).
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 11, at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, Conn., at 11 am, followed by a reception at the Country Club of New Canaan. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Owen’s honor to the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of the Florida Keys: VNAHospiceKeys.org.