William F. Smith, local historian and banker, dead at 91

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By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

William F. Smith, a historian and photographer who co-authored the book “A Seaport Saga: Portrait of Old Alexandria, Virginia” and was involved in several organizations around the city, died on November 13. He was 91.

Smith was born on October 25, 1924 and attended George Washington and Episcopal high schools in the Port City before studying at the University of Virginia. He interrupted his collegiate studies to attend U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School, where he earned the rank of Ensign and fought in the Pacific theater during World War II.

After the war, Smith completed his degree and returned to Alexandria, where he taught at George Washington High School. He then began a career in banking, during which he worked at Burke & Herbert and Alexandria National banks.

Smith was known for his collection of photographs documenting the history of Alexandria, which he began as a young man and continued with for a half century. The photographs include Civil War scenes in the city and identifiable landmarks and street scenes from across the Port City.

That work earned him several individual honors, including the Ben Brenman Award for Archaeology for outstanding historian in 2012 and the T. Michael Miller Alexandria History Award from the Alexandria Historical Society in 2002.

“These photographs might otherwise have been lost, but now are saved for future generations,” the society wrote in its citation. “We also acknowledge Mr. Smith’s generosity in making these images available to a wide audience which has enhanced the city’s ability to tell the story of 19th century development in Alexandria.”

He co-authored “A Seaport Saga” in 1989 with fellow historian T. Michael Miller, and donated his entire collection of photographs to the Alexandria Library, which created the William F. Smith Special Collection and made all his images available for public viewing at no cost.

Smith also served on several boards including the Alexandria Library, Alexandria Library Company, The Salvation Army and the Alexandria Tourist Council. He was also a member of the Jamestown Society and various state and local historical groups, and of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where he served on the vestry and traced his family to its founding in 1809.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Nancy Jane (Leith) Smith; three children, William, John and Catherine; six grandchildren and his brother, Charles Smith Jr. He was predeceased
by his sister, Catherine Spratley. A memorial service was held December 4 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

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