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Originally published Friday, February 19, 2010 at 6:51 PM

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Obituary

Bon VP knew workers on first-name basis

George Smith, longtime manager at The Bon Marché, dies on Mercer Island.

Seattle Times staff reporter

When he was vice president of Seattle's flagship downtown Bon Marché, George Smith knew the first names of all 800 employees.

"He was pretty legendary, knowing everyone on a first-name basis," said his son, Craig Smith. "That was his most prized legacy."

Mr. Smith, 83, died of natural causes Feb. 15 in his Mercer Island home.

He had worked at The Bon, now called Macy's, for 49 years.

Born in Massachusetts, Mr. Smith moved to Seattle when he was 3 and graduated from Lincoln High School. While in high school he worked part time at The Bon and then later joined the Marines, where he received a Purple Heart after being injured in Okinawa during World War II.

Mr. Smith returned to Seattle and went back to work at The Bon after he was discharged. He rose from salesman to vice president. He not only ran the downtown store, he also worked stints as the head of Bon stores in Everett and Northgate. His final job was managing the Redmond furniture gallery store, retiring at age 65.

"He had the longest tenure of any store manager," said his son.

Craig Smith, who lives in Bend, Ore., remembers the days when The Bon was closed on Sundays and management would show up to help restock the shelves and cases. He would often go to the store with his dad and help him restock menswear.

"We'd fill them up with dress shirts and ties and all the boxes would get thrown over top of the counters into the middle of the aisle on Sundays. By the time we left, the aisles were full of empty boxes."

"The retail business can be brutal and that's the antithesis of how George conducted his business," said Bob Leigh, who worked for years with Mr. Smith at The Bon. "He was as good as they got.

"George ... was one of the finest men I've ever known. He was a great human being. He felt best and was most successful as a merchant and executive when he was looking out for the good of his own people."

After he retired, Mr. Smith worked as a volunteer at Sahalee Country Club, where he had been a member for years, and helped the club host the 1998 PGA Championship, one of golf's four major events.

Craig Smith said he liked to play golf with his dad and they once won the Sahalee Invitational, at the time the only father-and-son team to win the tournament.

He remembers his father taking him and his sisters on Sunday drives to give their mother a day of peace. They'd go to Mount Si or the Ballard Locks, Alki and the waterfront.

"He was a uniquely loved man," said Craig Smith. "He was always a gentleman. He believed if you couldn't say something nice about somebody you shouldn't say anything."

His daughter, Lori Egan, of Woodinville, remembers her father at Christmas when he would pretend to be Santa Claus, with a bag full of presents that he'd picked up at The Bon the day before. "Some would still have their price tags," she said. "He would reach into his bag and hand out gifts."

Daughter Wende Kendig, of Duvall, said her father started at The Bon when it was just three stories tall and had a grocery store. "Dad was generous and kind and respectful, even if you were the person cleaning the toilets. Dad gave everyone the same amount of respect."

Mr. Smith's wife, Joan Marie Smith, died in 2000.

Services are scheduled next Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Monica's Catholic Church, 4301 88th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island.

The family asks that memorial donations go to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, 1660 S. Columbian Way, Seattle, WA 98108

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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