Bend gathers at Hayden Homes Amphitheater to celebrate life of Bill Smith

May 24, 2023
Bend gathers at Hayden Homes Amphitheater to celebrate life of Bill Smith

By Joe Siess

Close to 2,000 people gathered at Hayden Homes Amphitheater in Bend Tuesday to celebrate the life of Bill Smith, the developer of the Old Mill District and a visionary.

Smith, known for his major role in creating modern Bend, died in his sleep on Nov. 18 at the age of 81.

Tuesday’s gathering by the Deschutes River was held in the shadow of the city’s three iconic smokestacks — remnants of Bend’s logging history — that Smith helped save. The celebration of life included a gospel music family, The Steeles, which appropriately sang “Down by the Riverside,” and live tributes and intermittent montages of video recordings of family, friends, and colleagues remembering and celebrating Smith’s life.

The first to speak to the audience was U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who began his speech speaking directly to Smith’s wife, Trish Smith.

“Trish, it is so good to see you in the front row,” Wyden said. “Right where Bill would want you to be.”

Wyden said the main thing that comes to mind when he thinks back on his long friendship with Smith, are the wonderful and eclectic backyard barbecue parties thrown at the Smiths’ home. Wyden said those parties were never about anything other than jokes, and good times.

“Bill Smith is Exhibit A of what one Oregonian can accomplish for our communities,” Wyden said of his friend. “You’ve heard a lot about the Oregon way, recently. I’d like to spend a minute talking about the Bill Smith way. It is a way that focuses on celebrating what we all have in common as Oregonians.”

More coverage: Turning blight into beauty, the Old Mill District transforms Bend

Mike Hollern, the chairman of Brooks Resources, was featured on a number of video clips throughout the service where he remembered his friendship with Smith.

“In all the meetings I had been in with Bill, he was virtually always the smartest guy in the room,” Hollern told The Bulletin after the service. “He was a totally honest, trustworthy and highly ethical person. If Bill were here he would say something like if you are telling lies about things, it is too hard to remember the lies. So, it is easier to be honest anyway.”

Peter Stott, another associate of Smith, said he worked with Smith on the Old Mill District

“I met Bill in 1991 when there were more log trucks than people,” Stott said.

Stott recalled Smith would always have a rolled up construction plan tucked under his arm and a cup of coffee when on the job. More likely than not, he said, the coffee wound up on the plans.

Todd Taylor, a longtime business associate of Smith’s, recalled how Smith would rarely, if ever, be caught without a yellow legal pad and No. 2 pencils, both of which were given out to guests during the event Tuesday. Smith was an avid notetaker, Taylor said.

“Bill was a client, a partner, a mentor and a friend,” said Taylor, who recalled working with Smith on a number of construction projects over the years.

Taylor said Smith would text him from construction sites with the message, “good dig.” In the same breath, he’d then criticize the Newport Avenue improvement project saying he thought its completion was way overdue, Taylor said, getting some chuckles from the audience.

In conclusion, Taylor said he recalled Smith liked to use acronyms a lot, so he created one especially for his friend. “BMBB,” Taylor told the audience. “Bill Made Bend Better.”

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An aerial view of a body of water.