By Ken Coyle
When Wayne Smith was first elected to the Planning Board, Richard Nixon was president, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” was on everyone’s radio, the First National was Abington’s biggest supermarket, and Rip’s was the closest thing the town had to a department store.
Smith has served on the town’s Planning Board since 1973, making him currently Abington’s longest serving official. But after nearly 50 years on the board, Smith is not seeking re-election, marking the end of an era in Abington government. The board’s April 4 meeting was his last, and he says he’s ready to move on.
“[I feel] relieved to some degree,” he said. “I’ve got so many things that I’m doing that, I’m looking forward to having one less thing to do.”
The Board of Selectmen will honor Smith and his years of service to the town at their meeting Monday night with the Abington’s Best award.
Smith’s colleagues said the board is losing a big portion of its institutional memory.
“It is incredibly helpful to have Wayne on the Board. He seems to remember every engineer, every attorney and every developer that’s appeared before the Planning Board since the early 70’s,” said Planning Board member Rick Collins, who was born four years after Smith sat on his first hearing. “Wayne is the board’s Encyclopedia Britannica.”
A native of Fall River, Smith graduated from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and started working at the Littlefield-Wyman Nurseries. He moved to Abington as a newlywed in 1959. Smith’s wife, Priscilla, served as a school nurse in Abington and Bridgewater-Raynham public schools. Through the years, the Smiths raised four children at their Summit Road home and are now proud grandparents of six. Wayne ended up becoming owner and president of what is now Littlefield, Inc., and is also treasurer for Abington-based Suburban Enterprises.
During Smith’s time on the board, Abington evolved from a small town with multiple farms to a classic suburban bedroom community, with a number of big-box retailers.
“When I first moved to Abington no matter which way you came in, whether it was from Brockton, or Whitman, or Weymouth, you came through wooded areas. Today every piece of land is built on,” he said. “People own land and they have rights. When I first came to town, we had no zoning, in the 60’s you could build anything, anywhere you wanted.”
But Smith’s biggest legacy stems from his years volunteering. He serves as director and treasurer of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, and sits on the board of directors for the Eastern States Exposition (Big E), the Old Colony YMCA, the Mount Vernon Cemetery, and is also a director for Crescent Ridge Dairy.
He’s better known in Abington for his work with the Lions Club. A 53-year member of the club, Smith has served every position in the club, including as the region’s “Governor.”
For some, Smith is the guy with the big smile who mans the Lions Club grill at town events. Others might recognize him from his frequent runs around town.
Smith combined his love for distance running and involvement with Abington’s own Colonial Road Runners Club by holding an annual “Run for Sight” fundraiser. Through the years Wayne has run hundreds of miles, raising thousands of dollars for eye research. In 2004, while president of the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research group. Wayne took his fundraising skills to a new level, setting a record for yearly donations and earning him the nickname of the “Million Dollar Man”.
“It is clear when talking to Wayne that his real joy comes from his charitable work ,especially for the Lions and YMCA,” Collins said. “That is when his full smile comes out.”
As the Planning Board’s long-time chairman, Smith was respected for his integrity and dedication to hard work. He estimates he spent an hour a day organizing agendas and preparing for meetings., and that he made it his priority to be “fair to everybody”.
At Town Meeting earlier this month, Town Moderator Shawn Reilly, who appeared before Smith countless times over the years in his role as a real estate attorney, honored Smith for his years of dedication, calling him an “icon here in Abington” and praising him for all that he has done for our town and its residents.
“Think about it..Wayne has volunteered for more than half of his life to the Town of Abington,” Reilly told the audience.
Although Smith’s name won’t be on the Election Day ballot, he’ll still be at the polls, once again manning the grill for the Abington Lions Club as he has done annually for years.