“For me, old age has been a renaissance despite the tragedies of losing my beloved wife and son,” he wrote last year in The Guardian. “It’s why the greatest error anyone can make is to assume that, because an elderly person is in a wheelchair or speaks with quiet deliberation, they have nothing important to contribute to society.”
He added: “It’s equally important not to say to yourself if you are in the bloom of youth: ‘I’d rather be dead than live like that.’ As long as there is sentience and an ability to love and show love, there is purpose to existence.”
Born on Feb. 25, 1923, in Barnsley, England, Mr. Smith grew up in the slums of Yorkshire. His father, Albert, was a coal miner. His mother, Lillian (Dean) Smith, kept house for her husband and three children. The family, destitute once Albert lost his job after an injury, scrounged for scraps of food and was often on the move, a step ahead of the rent collector.
Harry started work at age 7 and quit school at 14 when he landed a job as a grocer’s assistant, his son John — who confirmed his death, from pneumonia — said in a telephone interview.
One of Mr. Smith’s two sisters, Marion, contracted spinal tuberculosis, a victim of the slum’s foul living conditions. As she wasted away, their parents pawned their best clothes to hire a horse-drawn cart to take her to a workhouse infirmary, where she awaited her death, according to a 2017 profile of Mr. Smith in The Toronto Star. At 10, she was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
He never forgot his family’s inability to pay for medical care for his sister. That led to his adamant support for the National Health Service, which was created in 1946 and started in 1948.
He and his wife, whom he married in 1947, moved in the 1950s to Canada, where he made a successful living in the Oriental carpet trade.