Terry Smith didn’t want this story written.
But since his career is the stuff of legend at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, he got overruled.
Smith doesn’t like a lot of attention. He loves to quietly go about his business, a tireless and humble worker.
And that’s the way he conducted himself for 52 years as an OCSD deputy assigned to the Harbor Patrol/Marine Operations Bureau, a career that formally ended with his final shift on Jan. 19 this year and with a happy sendoff at the Newport Harbor Patrol Office on April 30.
For three hours on that Tuesday, tacos, drinks, and desserts were on Smith.
Sporting a blue Hawaiian Islands-print shirt and light blue jeans, Smith was the picture of contentment and relaxation as colleagues past and present gave him a warm retirement farewell co-organized by his wife, Perry.
The light breeze gently flapped the several U.S. flags displayed for the occasion.
Colleagues current and former shot the breeze, and some brief speeches were made before everyone enjoyed cake.
Smith started patrolling the waters off O.C. in 1967, when that task fell to the county’s Harbors, Beaches and Parks Division. The Sheriff’s Department took over patrol of the county’s harbors and beaches in 1975.
Lt. Chris Corn, who has been harbormaster for a little over a year, met Smith in 2002, when Corn started working as a deputy at harbor division headquarters on Bayside Drive.
“He’s an extremely hard worker,” said Corn, who has been an OCSD deputy for nearly 25 years. “He never says no. He’s a special classification of employee, an ‘extra help.’ He was one of two ever in our agency’s history. Basically, if you’re a person who retires but doesn’t collect your pension and you come back, you’re considered ‘extra help.’ We’re sad to see him go.”
Smith, 76, lives in south O.C. by the beach.
“He just can’t stay away from the water,” Corn says.
“The thing about Terry is,” he adds, “we’ve lost a lot of experience over the years because a lot of our more senior guys have retired. Most of the deputies we have now probably have less than five years of experience. And Terry takes more than five decades of experience with him, and we’re going to lose that. There are a lot of things the new guys haven’t experienced that he’s done a hundred times.”
Corn says the only time Smith ever has said no on the job was when Corn would call him to ask him to work for him when he needed to take off a day.
“The only time he would ever say no was because he already had agreed to pick up somebody else’s shift,” says Corn, who oversees 39 deputy sheriffs and seven sergeants who patrol Newport, Dana Point and Huntington harbors.
Frank Sheets, who is retired, was a sergeant in charge of the dive team.
“He had a good run,” Sheets says of Smith. “What’s amazing is he never got injured. He always worked hard to be on top of his game, and that’s the way he wanted to go out.”
OCSD Sgt. Mike Scalise worked as a Dana Point Harbor Patrol sergeant for 13 years.
“He’s absolutely the hardest-working deputy in the Harbor Patrol,” Scalise, who is retired, says of Smith. “He’s trained dozens of deputies, and I’m sure the knowledge he has spread down to younger deputies has saved many lives.
“And his boat-handling skills are beyond phenomenal.”
In addition to his OCSD career, Smith worked for 33 years teaching in the vocational automotive program at Citrus College.
In brief remarks at the Taco Tuesday party, Corn riffed on some notable facts about 1967, when Smith joined the OCSD.
Lyndon B. Johnson was president.
Ronald Reagan just got sworn in as governor of California.
The Department of Transportation was created that year.
Super Bowl I was held (the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 35 to 10).
Fashion Island opened as California’s first outdoor mall.
McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac.
The average cost of a home was $14,250, gasoline was 33 cents a gallon, and the minimum wage was $1.33.
Smith was born in the state of Washington and grew up in Buena Park. He and his wife have two sons and four grandchildren ages 1, 3, 9 and 11.
Smith stays in shape working out in a gym at home and likes to go on power walks.
In retirement, he already has been working on painting projects at home and dealing with termite damage.
“San Clemente is the termite capital of the world,” says Smith, whose gifts at the party included a boat propeller and a paddle and a retired fire coat with his name on the back.
“It’s been a good ride,” Smith told the gathering. “I remained loving what I did to the end. Every time I left that boat slip after each work day, I would think, ‘They actually pay me to do this?’”
Smith said the thing he will value the most about his career at the OCSD was the people he worked with.
“You can have the best equipment and good leadership, but the guy you work with, that’s what makes the job,” Smith said.
He thanked everyone for coming.
“You people are giving me a good send-off, and I really appreciate it,” he said. “You always made me feel welcome.”