Spotlight on philanthropy: Brit Smith

Brit Smith

Suzy Lamont

A. Britton Smith, MC, QC, LLD’09, the founder and executive chairman of Kingston-based Homestead Land Holdings, has given Queen’s ­Faculty of Health Sciences a series of gifts totalling $9 million.

Among them is a $3.5 million donation to the Department of Surgery to ­establish the ­Britton Smith Chair in Surgery and a $4-million ­donation to the School of Nursing to establish the Sally Smith Chair in Nursing.

In addition to the new chairs, Mr. Smith has ­donated $500,000 toward a chair in surgical research, $500,000 toward creation of the Paul B. Helliwell Chair in Orthopaedic Research and $500,000 for a nursing endowment. Mr. Smith’s wife of 68 years, Edith “Sally” ­(Carruthers) Smith, died in June 2012 after a ­courageous battle with cancer.

“Sally wasn’t a nurse, but she and I certainly had great respect for nurses and the good work they do,” says Mr. Smith. He says that potential donors sometimes ­overlook the School of Nursing when they’re ­considering support for the Faculty of Health ­Sciences, and so he wanted to give a sizeable chunk of money where he felt it would make a ­significant difference.

“Everyone in the School of Nursing was overwhelmed and absolutely thrilled by Mr. Smith’s donation, which is the largest by a long way that we’ve ever received,” says Dr. Jennifer Medves, Vice-Dean (Health Sciences) and Director of the School of Nursing.

Brit and Sally Smith, both Kingston-born and raised, long have been generous supporters of their community and of Queen’s. (Mrs. Smith was a granddaughter of John Carruthers, who supplied much of the money for Carruthers Hall in 1889). Mr. Smith, who celebrated his 94th birthday in May, gave to the Initiative Campaign to help build the new home of the School of Medicine, and he has also pledged a million dollars towards the ­project to ­revitalize Richardson Stadium.

“I grew up in a family that believed if you’ve been blessed in life and have been fortunate enough to do well, you should give back to the community. I’ve always tried to do that,” says Mr. Smith.

A 1940 graduate of RMC, he served four years during the Second World War with the Canadian army in England and in France, where in July 1944 he was critically wounded. He won the Military Cross for his battlefield bravery. Back in Kingston, Sally Carruthers drove a Red Cross blood donation wagon. The couple was married soon after Mr. Smith returned to Kingston in November 1944.

With his wife’s encouragement, Mr. Smith went on to earn his law degree at Osgoode Hall – “Queen’s didn’t have a law school back then,” he hastens to point out – and then practised locally for more than a half century. He served for six years on Kingston city council and wrote two books of local history. In 1954, he started Homestead Land Holdings, now one of Ontario’s largest residential landlords, with more than 24,000 units.

“I feel very close to Queen’s even if I didn’t study there,” says Mr. Smith. “I grew up near ­campus and watched football games at the old Richardson Stadium. I met Sally at a Sunday tea held at the home of Electrical Engineering professor Douglas Jemmett [MA 1911, BSc 1913] and his wife. I have many family members, friends and business associates who are Queen’s graduates, and, of course, in 2009 the university was kind enough to award me an honorary degree.” 

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