There have been many tributes to outdoorsman George Smith, who died Feb. 12 at age 72 from ALS, a disease that he bore with remarkable fortitude and courage over the last four years of his life. Perhaps there’s room for one more.

Smith was best known as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which he led for two decades and essentially created as a force to be reckoned with.

His achievements as a State House lobbyist for SAM were legendary, and it was a rare session he didn’t have two dozen bills in varying stages of development, some of consequence and some which perhaps only George cared passionately about.

Even in retirement, he referred to “my bills” for the LDs he prompted a legislator to introduce; it was a pardonable overstatement.

Yet it was in his second career, as a professional writer, that I came to know George as a colleague, and a friend. We could not, in many respects, have been more different, but over time our writing interests, and even our views, began to converge.

Smith had long been writing about sporting issues for countless publications before he responded to a pitch I made in 1991 about joining the newspaper’s “board of contributors,” an idea picked up in editorial writing school.


The concept was to improve the op-ed page by recruiting and paying contributors, and having them write regularly. He took to it like a duck to water.

When the publisher encouraged me, once again, to add voices aligning more with his own side of the political spectrum, George was ready, and began contributing “The Native Conservative.” He never missed an issue, right up to the last week of his life.

It was one of his regrets that he had to change the name to “Maine Stream” after the Tea Party episode. The word “conservative” had shifted, for him, in uncomfortable ways.

By 2018, he actually endorsed two Democrats, Jared Golden for Congress and Janet Mills for governor. He made it clear to all who asked that he believed the Republican Party had left him, and not the other way around.

Smith applied himself to writing with the same contagious enthusiasm that he’d always employed in his love of the Great Outdoors — “everything under the sun,” as his sometime-antagonist John Cole put it.

Cole, himself a legendary journalist who co-founded Maine Times, quixotically led the 1983 attempt to ban moose hunting that Smith and the fledgling SAM decisively defeated; Smith later said the campaign put the organization on the map.


Smith always treated those on the other side as rivals, not enemies, and usually chose his words carefully. The decline of civility in the public square was another great regret.

In his last decade, he provided a model for the writer-as-entrepreneur. He managed to get paid, or at least reimbursed, for visiting restaurants all over Maine, and for his extensive travels.

One’s particular envy was reserved for his forays to Tuscany, where he and his wife Linda befriended the villa owners and steered dozens of Mainers for their own visits.

He wrote four books, of which my favorite is A Life Lived Outdoors (2014), a collection of his columns that’s stood the test of time.

We attended each other’s book readings, and he drew a crowd by headlining one of mine. Gratitude flowed easily with him; he had the gift of friendship.

Our last meeting was for a magazine profile, the only time I was privileged to enter his inner sanctum — the converted outbuilding attached to an 18thcentury cape in Mount Vernon.


The spacious wood-paneled studio featured the art of his father, Ezra Smith — a Yankee as tough, or at least as gruff, as they come — but who showed a gentler side in his paintings, much like his son.

George’s desk overlooked Hopkins Stream, where, year-round, he could witness the natural world as a panorama of seasonal rhythms. Earlier than most of us, he had found the perfect place to be.

The ALS diagnosis had recently been confirmed, and I asked about the death of Alan Hutchison, the remarkable leader of Maine’s Endangered Species program, and later director of the Forest Society, conserving vast swaths of the North Maine Woods.

Hutchinson had suffered a massive heart attack, and died instantly. I wondered whether that might be better than the terrible wasting of ALS that lay ahead.

Not at all, he quickly replied. This way, he would be able to say goodbye to everything he loved, and to all those who loved him.

And he did. It was a fitting end to a life well lived.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, reporter, opinion writer and author for 36 years, has published books about George Mitchell, and the Maine Democratic Party. He welcomes comment at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.