Finding a Way of Building
A builder finds a way of building — even after his life has ended
To say that Pat Smith was “handy” would be a gross understatement. He loved to build things. In fact, by the time he was 17, he had built his own home on St. Joseph Island, Ontario, the place he was born and raised. He built a restaurant on his property where the family operated a pancake house. Attached to the house, he built a shop where he worked on small engines and completed boat repairs. Pat completed his welding training at Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology.
He worked in an automotive shop in Sault Ste. Marie for a while; however, he admitted back then that he didn’t like greasy fingers. Wood was cleaner and so the carpenter in him was born. Pat worked on construction of the coke ovens for the steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie. He also worked on the construction of the bridge from the mainland to the island prior to leaving Richards Landing and heading west. His first stop was Saskatoon, where he went to work for the University of Saskatchewan. There, he learned much about the world of building energy efficient houses, developed an interest in solar/wind powered energy and obtained his Journeyman’s Status in Carpentry.
Not completely content in 1979, Pat hopped back onto Highway 16 and continued to head west until he arrived at NAIT in Edmonton, where he spent the rest of his career. Pat was an instructor in the Building Trades as well as instructing in the aircraft skin and structure course. He was also a design professional with the Government of Canada’s Super E housing initiative in Japan.
Sherril Cossey (Management ’99) met Patrick for the first time while taking a specialized course on building inspections taught by him for the Appraisal Institute of Canada – Alberta branch. A relationship developed over a period of time and Sherril, a single mother with three boys, eventually married him. Pat accepted the boys as his own and spent time teaching them how to build things.
“The majority of his life was devoted to sharing his knowledge and teaching others,” says Sherril, who has worked for NAIT for over 11 years. “Pat was an intelligent, kind and caring person who was always willing to help others. His passion for inventions continued throughout his life, and he was always building and trying new methods to help solve problems that people would bring to him.”
Tragically, in 2005 the couple received devastating news: he had mantle cell lymphoma, which belongs to a group of diseases known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, related to malignancies that affect the lymphatic system.
The couple made the best of the grim news. Although he was unable to return back to work at NAIT in the fall of 2005, he still managed to complete his obligations with the Super E housing initiative. In 2007, they returned to Japan for one last time.
“Like everything else he had encountered in his life, he was determined to learn more about the disease, taking part in experimental treatments, both through the medical and naturopathic models in Alberta and Mexico,” says Sherril. “Pat developed ties with other cancer patients and would spend time talking to them and encouraging them. He remained positive right to end of his life.”
Before he died, however, the couple had a conversation about the 50 acres of “sugar bush” land he owned back on the Island. Pat wanted the land to be sold to someone who would continue to use it for producing maple syrup. Sherril found an adjacent property owner who was in the maple syrup business willing to purchase the land. But what to do with the money? It was obvious: Sherril and her boys agreed that the proceeds from the sale would be used to create the Patrick A. R. Smith Memorial Endowed Fund.
“NAIT was such an important part of his life and he was so committed to his students. It was just so fitting that the support for students be set up in perpetuity.”