Don Smyth, VHS 1947 Vic High Teacher, Coach, Mentor

Don Smyth, VHS 1947  Vic High Teacher, Coach, Mentor

By King Lee, VHS 1958

Don Smyth features in one of my favourite memories of Victoria High School.

Near the end of my first month at Vic High in 1955, I remember entering Mr. Smyth’s classroom (for science, I think) and sitting down, expecting to strain my ears for a lesson because he was so soft-spoken. Instead, he asked if anyone in the room had a transistor radio. In 1955, cell phones and iPads weren’t even a distant possibility. They came about half a century later, and television was in its first year of colour. One boy put up his hand, leading Mr. Smyth to declare that the period would consist of listening to the World Series game between his team, the National League Brooklyn Dodgers, and the American League New York Yankees, which took place between September 28 and October 4 that year.

The radio play-by-play announcers were Vin Scully for the Walter Alston-managed Dodgers and Mel Allen for the Casey Stengel-led Yankees. It would come down to the seventh game of the best-of-seven series before the Dodgers captured their inaugural World Series, the first in seven attempts against the Yankees. Three years later – in 1958, my graduating year – the Dodgers moved from Ebbets Field to Los Angeles and the New York Giants left the Polo Grounds for San Francisco.

It was the most unique experience in my Vic High life and it never occurred again.

Don Smyth was born on March 26, 1929 in Forestburg, Alberta, a twin with sister Aileen, he graduated from Vic High in 1947, and died on May 29, 2022 at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. His wife, Lorraine, predeceased him. His yearbook entry included this write-up:  Jovial Don makes school life much easier. Flying “Y” swimming member. Council Rep.  Rep Rugby; Rep Soccer; House Captain; Hi-Y. 

Don and Lorraine raised seven children and lived close to Patricia Bay on the Saanich Peninsula. Son Kevin followed in his father’s and earlier generations’ footsteps and taught in Greater Victoria for 37 years. He still steps into a classroom occasionally as a Teacher on Call (TOC), and described his dad as “tough, firm but fair”, adding that his parents were a good parenting team.


Lorraine and Don and their seven kids. L to R Kevin, Drew, Clint, Karen, Greg, Christine, Brett

Don is described by many as a man of few words, soft- and well-spoken with a voice that was seldom raised. Son Brett said his father had a very dry, playful sense of humour and a slow burn. “I remember a family fishing trip in September of 1972 east of Terrace,” Brett says, “where Dad had just taken a job at a BC school district up north. On our way home, the first Canada-Russia hockey series game was on CBC radio and the Canadians were getting shellacked by the Ruskies.” The Russians walloped the Canadian NHL all-star team, 7-3 in the first game in Montreal.  The eight-game series was eventually won by the Canadians (on Paul Henderson’s late goal in Game 8 in Moscow), four wins to three with one tied game. “Dad was driving the car faster and faster as he got more incensed by the (first game) score, not being much of a fan of the Russians,” says Brett. “If that car is still in one piece, I’ll bet one could still see the hand indentations on the steering wheel. Dad was a master of the slow burn!”

Fishing trips were memorable family experiences, though few fish were ever caught. One particular trip out near Port Renfrew, Kevin’s sister Karen fell into the water. “Dad hollered at her,” says Kevin, “in a louder-than-usual voice. ‘Get out of there, you’re scaring the fish!’ He was always entertaining.” Kevin says his dad was a very good swimmer and was the head lifeguard at Beaver, Elk and Thetis lakes near Victoria, and would take the family to the Chemainus River to swim. While training lifeguards, Don implemented the use of surfboards for speed and ease. Don would also take the family back to Alberta to visit the old homestead on a river lot along Battle Creek near Duhamel. Other relatives owned dairy and cattle farms in central Alberta and they visited those as well.

It was as a student at the University of British Columbia, where he was the swim team’s captain in his final year, that Don was introduced to volleyball.  He fell in love with the sport. He coached volleyball and mentored players for a good portion of his adult life, stressing sportsmanship and fair play above all else. Kevin remembers one volleyball tournament where Don was coaching a University of Victoria team that was not playing well. His dad left the bench and sat in the stands. Kevin said the message was received by the team.

Don started coaching Vic High volleyball teams in 1958 and led them to three provincial championships. “Mr. Smyth was such a positive influence,” recalls Anne McKeachie, VHS 1968 and a member of one of Don’s provincial high school championship teams. “He had such a joyful presence…we all wanted to be the best team for him. He was simply an all-round great person, teacher, and vice principal.” Teammate Pat (Bourne) Nalleweg, VHS 1968, wholeheartedly agrees. “I would describe him as patient, encouraging, with a calm demeanour. He brought out the best in his players.”

As a coach, Don was credited with introducing the 4-2 positioning system as well as ballet and trampoline training to help jumping skills. Kevin says it was his mother, Lorraine, who gave Don the idea of using ballet for volleyball training.

Kevin says his father coached the B.C. men’s team to a gold medal in the inaugural Canada Games in Quebec City. But his contribution to the sport went well past coaching. He was the first elected president of the Canadian Volleyball Association (now Volleyball Canada), and in 2021 was inducted into the Volleyball BC Hall of Fame.

But volleyball wasn’t the only sport where Don excelled as a coach and mentor. He also coached the Vic High rugby team, and at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Don was appointed the Aquatics chair. At the Games, Don was introduced to Queen Elizabeth and as her official host, sat beside the reigning monarch at an event for about an hour or so. (The entire 1994 Commonwealth Games Sports Committee was inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame  in 2014.)

Don’s life touched countless Vic High students in many ways. One of son Kevin’s lasting memories of his dad were these words:

“If you are truly thankful, what do you do? You share.”

Don’s obituary is posted on our website.

Smyth-Don-1947-and-teacher.pdf (


From Don’s 2021 Volleyball BC Hall of Fame Induction

Don began his coaching career at Victoria High in 1958 where he led the Boys and Girls teams to three provincial titles. He would later move on to become head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes and Vikettes. Don guided Team BC to a gold medal at the 1967 Canada Games in Quebec City as the team did not drop a single set the entire tournament. Don would make history by becoming the first head coach of the national women’s team at the 1967 Pan American Games. He also coached them at the inaugural 1969 NORCECA championships in Mexico. He was instrumental in organizing a world class Canada-wide volleyball tour between Russia and the United States. Don would go on to become the first elected President of the Canadian Volleyball Association (now Volleyball Canada).

Mar 8 – Digital event program feature – Click HERE to view

Mar 9 – Podcast interview w/ inductee – Click HERE to listen

Mar 10 – Video presentation + Virtual induction ceremony – Click HERE to Watch