Obituary: Robert Henry Smith / Former Mellon Bank executive, Navy vet had passion for travel

March 13, 1920 - Sept. 10, 2012

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Robert Henry Smith had a passion for travel and banking, and he got plenty of both during his nearly four decades with the international division of Mellon Bank.

The veteran who fought off lung cancer earlier in his life is remembered by friends and family for his work ethic and dry sense of humor reminiscent of one of his favorite comedians, Bob Newhart.

Mr. Smith, 92, died of natural causes in his Oakland home Monday.

Mr. Smith was born in New Haven, Conn., and graduated from Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1937.

He later moved to Pittsburgh when his father was hired at Alcoa Inc.

After graduating from Haverford College in 1941, Mr. Smith enrolled in Harvard Business School and volunteered for the U.S. Naval Reserves. His studies were interrupted by the call to service the following year, but he later resumed his studies and received his MBA in 1947.

Up until his retirement as a captain in 1965, Mr. Smith served in naval intelligence and was stationed in Scotland, England, Germany and Taiwan during his periods of active duty.

Despite his years in the military, Mr. Smith wasn't one to boast about his service.

"He really spent most of his time downplaying his experience with the Navy. Young kids always imagined him as the captain of a battleship, and that was not his role at all," said his son David Smith of Oakland.

While most of his duties involved sitting at a desk, his early years instilled in him a love for travel and the sea. By the end of his life, he had been on 101 cruises and traveled to more than 100 countries.

"He didn't hold back on trying new things," said his daughter, Charlotte Bourhis of Natick, Mass.

This adventurous spirit served him well when he was sent to London to represent Mellon Bank at the Bank of London and South America in 1969. The city held a special meaning because it was where he honeymooned with his wife 18 years prior.

He worked four years in London until he was sent to Tokyo to open a new branch. He then returned to London to head Mellon's European branch and retired in 1984 as senior vice president of the international division.

Bill Nelson, 75, of Kansas City, Mo., worked with Mr. Smith more than 20 years at Mellon Bank.

"He was one of the most insightful bankers I worked with, yet he maintained a delightful sense of humor," Mr. Nelson said. "He had a quick mind that went with his quick wit."

Mr. Smith was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989, but recovered after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy.

He was a member of The Duquesne Club and The Pittsburgh Golf Club. While he was an avid golf fan, he wasn't much of a player himself.

"It was hit or miss. A lot of miss," said Mr. Smith with a laugh.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Smith is survived by his wife of 61 years, Elizabeth; son Robert Haring-Smith of Washington, Pa.; and four grandchildren.

Interment in Calvary Cemetery is private. A private memorial service will be announced at a later date. John A. Freyvogel Sons is handling arrangements.

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Emily Petsko: epetsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.


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