Jamie “Bud” Clifford Smyth
Known to most as Bud, died at home on December 14, 2019, having
suffered a veritable carnival of medical problems and treatments associated with ten years of cancer. As a patient, he was legendary for giving Death the slip, over and over. As a person, he was a model of courage and cojones, continuing to work through his era of medical catastrophe at all the physically demanding, necessary responsibilities of his life while losing his strength and gaining unwanted humility.
Bud was renowned for his epic storytelling. His powerful sense of morality, his great love and respect for nature and the human heart shone throughout his tales, funny or dramatic. He was a uniquely open human being, warm, understanding, compassionate to a fault. He considered it his duty to share everything he had, from expertise to manual labor to worldly possessions to those epic stories, with everyone he met. He never shirked his self-imposed responsibility to his fellow man and never turned away or passed by a person in need of help, friendship, or advice.
Bud was born April 1, 1936 in Okietown, in Salinas, California, during the Great Depression. Coming from the sparsely populated desert country of southeastern Oregon, Bud’s parents Cliff and Kathleen Smyth had gone to Salinas to find work, as did so many others in those hard times. Before Bud was one year old, his family returned to the wild cattle country of southeastern Oregon, where Bud developed his boundless curiosity and had his formative experiences as a hunter, trapper, explorer, horseman, and wilderness wanderer. In 1954, Bud graduated from Lakeview High School, and in 1955 he migrated to Alaska.
Bud had eleven children. His first child, beloved Cristeen Dee Smyth, died in 1966 at age 5. He is survived by two wives and ten children with their thriving families.
Bud had the idea that he could, and we all can, do anything. Nothing was too lowly, or too hard, or too complicated, or too intellectually challenging, or too mysterious or tedious or unpleasant or intricate for him, or us, to do. He bore all responsibility and he feared no task. He did his own doctoring and vetting, lawyering, mechanic-ing, surveying, designing, engineering, inventing, building, drawing, hunting, butchering, farming, trailblazing, and thinking about the great questions of psychology, politics, philosophy, and religion. He had a turn or two at midwifery and confidently demonstrated proper technique for breastfeeding an infant. He was an athlete and it was hard to find a sport he couldn’t coach. He started out a cowboy, became a mechanic-operator for electrical line work by trade, and was a dog trainer and laborer from start to finish. He drove his ten children crazy with his relentless devotion to used materials. A few of them were shocked to learn that straight nails could be bought at stores, and it wasn’t strictly necessary to use nails which had first to be straightened for every project. His house in Fairbanks was built predominantly from wet wood, bent nails, and other materials he harvested from the receding waters of the Chena River flood of 1967.
He built his own ocean-going fishing boat and fished from it. He built his own houses. He built his own sleds. He surveyed his own lands. He built his own roads. He fixed his own trucks, everyone’s cars, and his own bulldozers. He cleared his first homestead with an ax, a handsaw, and a dog team. He cleared other lands with big equipment. Above all, Bud Smyth was a dog man. For him, the dog team stood for everything. All the lessons in morality we need, all the challenging problems we need, all the fun in victory and defeat we can have, all the beauty of our fellow creatures, writ large. He loved a dog. He loved a great dog, and he loved the potential to be great in every dog.
He completed the Iditarod six times; first musher out of the first start in the first race, 1973, and he did things no one else ever tried. He was one of the founders of the Yukon Quest, and he wrote the original rules for that race. He cut and brushed the most troublesome and difficult portion of the Yukon Quest Trail, the trail over Eagle Summit, for the first Yukon Quest, and handled when his son competed in it years later. He served as Race Marshall for the Iditarod in 1978, and for the Klondike 300 (and its later renaming) for many years.
His ten children were included in everything he did, for better and worse. With his passion for perfection and self-reliance, for discovery and truth, he gave them uncountable experiences and insights, in the wilderness and at home. His children cherish these Father gifts, and cultivate them for their own children. He taught his children about things we must do for the good of the world, and they carry the torch they received from him.
The flame of his love burns bright and hot.
Service will be held in April of 2020