Dr. Donald Smith delights in the magnificent iris he grows in his College Place garden. Quite like the retired orthopedic surgeon himself, the plants are colorful, very hardy and endure the years well.
At 94, Smith, born 1916 in Canada, has spent much of his life moving between there and the United States, still works as a consultant and expert witness in court cases. There are his hobbies and a host of intellectual pursuits and projects, too.
"I'm interested in a lot of things," he said. "As I age I will not let go of that. You have to keep your mind active. I've noticed that the people that sit on the front porch and just watch the traffic go by, they're soon in the graveyard. You have to stay active."
As for his longevity, it's in the family genes, with many ancestors living well toward the century mark.
"Also," he added, "I've been a vegetarian all my life."
He also balances mental activities with more physically strenuous hobbies -- a combination he says helps keep him healthy and engaged in his life's work. An avid gardener and accomplished woodworker who also believes in the value of learning at all ages, he has been taking online classes in finance to further his expertise.
He's currently working on research on prenatal conditions for the mother influencing the unborn child. "The Bible shows some pretty clear prenatal instructions," he said.
His spiritual life inspires and sustains him, he says.
"I feel that the Lord has a place in my life," he says. He credits his even becoming a doctor as a miracle -- in the late 1930s a doctor he had worked for suddenly gave him the $250 he needed to go to school.
An early interest in health and service to others inspired Smith to pursue a career in medicine. He attended medical school in Berrien Springs, Mich., and graduated in 1943 from what is now Loma Linda University in California. He worked in a variety of hospitals in the United States and Canada. Then he performed orthopedic surgery in California and taught in a clinic in Los Angeles.
His career also led him to meeting his wife, Esther. She had been supervisor of the operating suite where he worked, and they both had similar interests and concerns. In 1962 they moved to the Walla Walla area, where he began to work at both the old St. Mary and Walla Walla General hospitals and also in the Tri-Cities for awhile when medical facilities there were short staffed.
Smith and his wife had three children. After one daughter died, the couple took in another child who needed a home.
They maintained close family ties even though family was spread all over the country and the world, such as a granddaughter and great-granddaughter in Australia.
After retiring from his surgery practice, Smith knew he needed to stay active and involved. For awhile he owned some acreage and raised horses, but he wanted to scale back a bit, then decided to focus on gardening and his wood craft.
The large bookcases for the library in his living room are his own creations that hold many books on a host of subjects. He has his own large woodworking shop in the basement of the duplex he and daughter Beverly own. He also makes a selection of items including wood ballpoint pen barrels. He uses an assortment of woods for their differing grain and color. Some are made of curly maple, Russian olive, prune wood as well as black walnut.
Esther Smith died in 2004. The doctor's constant companion now is Teddy, and 8-year-old Shih-Tzu.
He and Teddy work in the garden, where Smith nurtures an extensive collection of iris. Different kinds and colors of iris grow alongside the fence with his daughter's roses. Smith has put in some reblooming bulbs, iris that bloom in the spring and again in the fall.
They bloom in splendor and require very little maintenance. "And they are very spectacular for a short time," Smith said.