Former health minister Jim Smith remembered as kind, caring person

Dr. Jim Smith, a physician-turned-politician who held key cabinet portfolios including minister health under the Nova Scotia Liberal governments of the 1990s, has died at the age of 84.

Smith carried the compassion and dedication he honed as a family physician into politics, according to former Premier Russell MacLellan.

“He cared and he worked until he found a way of getting things done,” MacLellan said in a telephone interview from his home in Ingonish, N.S. “And he didn’t make a lot of fuss about it.”

Smith died this weekend, according to friends.

“He was a marvellous individual,” MacLellan said. “A gentleman to the core.”

Two decades in politics

One of only six Liberals to win in the 1984 election, John Buchanan’s largest of four PC majorities, Smith’s introduction to Nova Scotia politics was as an opposition member.

He sat on the opposition side of the House for the first of his almost two decades at the legislature as the representative of Dartmouth East.

When the Liberals took power under John Savage’s leadership, Smith was assigned his first major cabinet portfolio, minister of community services. He later took over the job of minister of housing and municipal affairs.

But it was during the MacLellan years that Smith got his most challenging jobs, heading the Health Department and briefly carrying on the duties of justice minister.

When the Liberals lost government in 1999, Smith was named caucus chair, a position he held until he left politics in 2003.

‘Everyone that he met loved him’

In 2000, Smith joined the medical research firm MedMira, a Halifax-based company best known for its HIV test kits. 

Company CEO Hermes Chan said he and Smith traveled throughout the world marketing the kit and other MedMira products.

“Everyone that he met loved him,” Chan said of his one-time vice-president of communications.

That affection was shared by company employees, according to Chan. 

“Internally, our staff called him uncle Jim,” Chan said. “He was a very likable guy but he’s also [a man of] principal.

“If he believed, he believed till the end.”

Smith retired from the company and stepped down from MedMira’s board of directors in 2011.

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