From Home Furnishing Business
Patriarch of Smithe, Furniture & Design Died Peacefully at Age 86
2022 by HFBusiness Staff in Industry, Obituaries
Walter Edward Smithe, Jr.
May 19, 1936 - October 9, 2022
It is with great sadness that the family of Walter Edward Smithe, Jr., announces his passing. Walter was the patriarch of the extended Smithe family and the founder of Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design. He died peacefully with his beloved wife of 64 years, Florence Flynn Smithe, by his side. Many family members from far and near gathered close during his final days, cherishing the memories of time spent with Papa during the 86 years of his extraordinary life.
Walt was born in 1936 to Margaret Slifka and Walter E. Smithe Sr., and he was raised in the Belmont and Central neighborhood of Chicago. In his own words, he was well-educated in Catholic Schools. He graduated from St. Ferdinand primary school in 1950 and Fenwick High School in 1954. He attended the University of Notre Dame and earned a Bachelor of Philosophy in Commerce degree in 1958 and a master’s degree in Anthropology from Loyola.
Walt married Flo, his neighborhood sweetheart, in July of 1958. The newlyweds moved to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, where he fulfilled his commitment to the US Army, attained the rank of Captain, and developed expertise in the nascent field of computers.
After discharge from the Army, Walt enjoyed a successful career in the computer industry working for GE and IBM. In 1967, Walt was lured back to the family furniture business, and soon pioneered the concept of custom order furniture in Chicagoland. This was the foundation of Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design. Walt’s vision and leadership provided the roadmap to success still used by the firm to this day.
In 1980, at Loyola, Walt pursued his love of antiquity and culture by earning a master’s degree in Anthropology. His thesis was based on archeological sites he observed on rugged, oceanfront land he and Flo loved and owned in Malin Head, County Donegal, Ireland. Precious family memories were made there, among wonderful neighbors, the steep cliffs and surging sea.
Walt is remembered as the ultimate connector. His gregariousness and natural ability to find a common bond with others nourished him and created an enormous community of friends and colleagues. Until recently, he spent weekends at the Smithe showrooms, engaging with associates and clients. Walt volunteered for many years with Habitat for Humanity, traveling to the US and Central America to help build houses, often under difficult conditions. His care for, and interest in others was truly unique.
In his later years Walt, or “Papa” to his grandkids and great grandkids, immensely enjoyed his time with extended family. He delighted the children by engaging their curiosity and imagination, playing banjo, and singing folk songs like “The Rock Island Line” and dreaming up his tales of Tiny Tim and the Magic Gumball Machine.
Walt’s success in business is only exceeded by the success of his personal life. He is survived by Flo, his cherished wife; 7 children, Walter III (Mary) Smithe, Cindy (Randy) Perry, Tim (Mary) Smithe, Margaret Smithe, Mark (Will Forrest) Smithe, Hope (Jason) Byrne and Amy Smithe; 16 grandchildren, Maureen (Chris) Brusznicki, Meghan (JC) Clarke, Caitie (Danny) Jisa, Casey (Hillary) Perry, Colleen Smithe, Bob (Meghan) Perry, Wes (Lexi) Smithe, Cameron Smithe, Kelly Stock, Kevin Stock, Reid (Ashley) Smithe, Kathleen Stock, Jack Smithe, Summit Byrne, Ethan Byrne, and India Byrne; 23 great-grandchildren; and brothers Tomm (Rosemarie) and Gary (Debbie) Smithe, and sister, Nancy (Bob) Waters. He will be dearly missed by all. Walter is preceded in death by his parents, and his grandson, Timothy Smithe, Jr.
The wake will be held at Ryan-Parke funeral home in Park Ridge on Friday, October 21, from 4-8pm. Father Larry McBrady will celebrate his funeral mass at 2pm on Saturday, October 22, at St. Paul of the Cross Church in Park Ridge, Illinois, the parish where he and Flo raised their family.
The legacy of his life and work lives on in the hearts of all whose lives were touched by this great man. And now he rests in peace.