Today Wally Smith, who died in 2001, would have been 100, a special friend of the Ramblers and of mine. Here’s what I said at his memorial event in May 2001.
Tribute to Wally Smith, 13 September 1914 – 29 April 2001
Founder member of the Ramblers’ Association, treasurer 1961-87 and vice-president 1987-2001.
They called him Tiger Smith in Liverpool and North Wales Area in the 1930s because he used to lead such energetic and challenging walks. And I suspect it was also because he was a leading light in organising the path surveys in the 1950s, when we first got the official, definitive, maps of rights of way under the National Parks Act 1949.
All the paths had to be claimed by volunteers, and Liverpool and North Wales Ramblers covered two million acres. Wally was the organiser, he went with the volunteers—by bus, train and bike—out into the wilds and then co-ordinated their returns and sent them to the county councils, an enormous task. So it’s thanks to Wally that so many paths in that area are on the map today. In the 1950s he moved to West Riding and became West Riding Area access secretary. He pestered West Riding County Council to make access agreements on moorland.
Wally was the unsung hero of the Ramblers’ Association. Not much was written about him. He was a founder member in 1935 and treasurer for more than a quarter of a century, from 1961 to 1987. I found a page from him in Rucksack in 1970 in which he argues the case for putting up the subs from 10s 6d to £1 (to enable the Ramblers’ Association to do its campaigning) and he saw off an amendment at National Council that year to increase it only to 16s.
His job, for 50 years, was an accountant. Yet he was willing to do this same job in his spare time for the RA because he believed in what it was fighting for. Wally’s heart was always in the hills. In his early days he worked in the Cunard Building in Liverpool and in his lunch break he would go onto the roof to improve his head for heights and practise his technique by jumping over parapets.
He firmly believed in the RA as a campaigning body and he saw his job as making that possible. He said to previous secretaries and directors: ‘My job is to see you’ve got the money to do what you want to do’—and he did, both as treasurer of the RA and of Ramblers’ Association Services (a holiday company established to raise money for the Ramblers’ Association).
Wally was straightforward and direct. When Andrew Dalby was interviewed for a job with the RA in 1965, by Walter Tysoe and Wally, Walter asked him: ‘What newspapers do you read?’ Wally leaned across to Andrew and said: ‘He’s trying to find out your politics’. Of course Wally would have asked the question straight out.
If he didn’t know something, he’d ask. He had a curiosity for life; self-taught he was always seeking out knowledge. When in London he would pop into the House of Commons to see what was going on.
He never panicked—he was the ideal person to go on the hills with. He never bore grudges, he had a great sense of humour and you could tease him. But above all I remember his wonderful smile.
Unlike many of his generation, he accepted change and indeed welcomed it. He encouraged Alan Mattingly, as the new young Ramblers’ secretary in the 1970s, and he did the same for me when I came on the executive committee in 1982. In later years he supported the Nottinghamshire Area, of which he was a member, in forming a group for young people.
He always came to our rallies—on the first Forbidden Britain Day in 1985 on Lose Hill in the pouring rain, Wally was there. On Win Hill in 1994 to celebrate the 60th jubilee—Wally was there. On that occasion he met our new president, Janet Street Porter for the first time and they got on really well, probably because they were both so direct.
He had a lifelong belief in freedom to roam, and it was fitting that the RAS should have held a dinner in honour for Wally on 3 March last year, the day the freedom-to-roam bill was published.
We need Wally now, as the RA considers its future direction, to guide us and remind us that we must never cease to campaign for people’s rights to enjoy the countryside.
His ashes are to be scattered on Snowdon, among the mountains he loved. We can go there and remember him, his lifelong devotion to the RA, and the paths and freedom to roam which he won for us. We shall remember him with deep respect, deep admiration but above all very deep affection.