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Obituary of Merlin Frank Smith
The Celebration of Merlin's Life
on Saturday, December 9, 2023, 11:00 a.m.
at South Sound Manor in Tumwater will be live-streamed at
Merlin Smith was born in San Diego, California, to Arthur and Lolita Smith on August 8, 1928. His father was in the U.S. Navy; his mother was a homemaker.
Merlin was the older of two children. He spent a lot of his formative years being raised by his Grandmother Watson in Caldwell, Idaho, and later traveling and working with Grandfather Jesse Watson, building Albertson’s grocery stores. Merlin had to do his studies while they traveled. He enlisted in the Navy at the end of World War II. After being injured in a flying accident and spending a lot of time in hospitals back East, Merlin attended the University of Idaho.
While at a church youth gathering in 1948, playing pool one day at a Methodist and Presbyterian Church gathering, he met another student, Irene Horning. After dating for about two years, they were married June 7, 1951. They honeymooned that summer on a remote Forest Service fire lookout tower. Irene surprised Merlin (and his coworkers) by bringing a stove-heated cast iron and curtains to the remote location. Merlin also shortly found out that her passion for flowers meant he would be hand carrying water 1.5 miles uphill to the lookout tower every day for her flower garden. They turned out to be an ideal match and shared a lifetime love of flowers and are still known locally for their rhododendrons.
After the summer at the lookout tower, they moved back to Moscow, Idaho, to complete their educations. Irene finished first and taught students at Troy and Dery High Schools, while Merlin finished his degrees in Forest Management and Business. After college, they moved to Emmet, Idaho, which was the first of many moves while Merlin worked for a Boise company selling lumber and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to being a forester, he was a forest fire fighter and led inmate firefighting teams.
After several moves, Irene put her foot down and told Merlin no more moves. So, Olympia became their home from 1964 until today. Merlin joined a newly formed organization called the Department of Natural Resources and extensively traveled the state. Later he transferred to the Department of Commerce as the Industrial Development Specialist. Because of his forest and state knowledge, he was selected to serve on the Forest Practices Board, Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Committee, Governor’s Wilderness Area Task Force, and Governor’s Hardwood Commission. He served the Hardwood Commission until he finally requested the Governor find a replacement when he turned 80.
After his retirement in 1983, Merlin started a business to provide dried hardwood to a North Carolina furniture factory. But he was better known for his 60 years of individual and civic community service. For as long as anyone can remember, he supported elderly folks for decades, ensuring they had food, shelter, and medical care, as well as a friend whenever they needed it. Merlin was also active in the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4H programs, and a range of other philanthropic programs and activities. In particular, Merlin actively supported the Scottish Rite’s speech therapy work and a program that discretely provided shoes for children and young adults that could not afford them. Merlin was a dedicated Mason, served as Master of his Lodge, Harmony #18, and was later coroneted as a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason. He particularly felt he was making a difference as the President of the state-wide college Scottish Rite Scholarship Foundation, which he led for over 20 years and stayed active supporting well into his 90s.
When Merlin and Irene traveled the country, visiting family and friends, Irene would sit in the back seat of their car with her feet up, hand sewing, writing letters, and navigating. Merlin recalls that Irene insisted on stopping to see every unique attraction advertised along their route, regardless of how iffy the road was for the excursion. Secretly, Merlin did not mind those excursions as there was something new to share with Irene and laugh about every day. Merlin loved her dearly.
Merlin also loved his family, and lived an honest, sincere, religious, and faithful life that valued everyone he met and helped those in need that had no one else.
Merlin passed away on November 14, 2023. He is survived by his four children, Kevin, Karen, Kendra, and Kyle; 15 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.
The Celebration of Life for Merlin Smith will be held at 11:00 a.m. on December 9, 2023, at South Sound Mannor, 455 North Street SE, Tumwater, WA 98501. If you are unable to attend in person, you may join a live stream broadcast at https://client.tribucast.com/tcid/8826128030
Per Merlin’s wishes, in lieu of flowers, please provide a donation to the Scottish Rite Scholarship Foundation at www.srsfw.org.
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