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Hawaii News

‘Freckles’ Smith grew family tour business into Kauai legacy

John Berger
COURTESY KAMIKA SMITH
                                <strong>Walter James Smith Jr. </strong>
                                <em>He was 12 when his father started Smith’s Motor Boat Service, and after his father’s death in 1970, took over as president </em>
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COURTESY KAMIKA SMITH

Walter James Smith Jr.

He was 12 when his father started Smith’s Motor Boat Service, and after his father’s death in 1970, took over as president

Walter James Smith Jr. — known to family, friends and colleagues as “Freckles” — died April 19 at his home in Kapahi, Kauai. He was 89.

Born and raised on the Garden Island, a graduate of Kapaa High School and Kauai Vocational School, Smith was 12 when his father put a borrowed outboard motor on a rowboat and took a group of tourists up the Wailua River to see Fern Grotto. From that first journey up the river came the family business, Smith’s Motor Boat Service Inc., and as “Freckles” Smith grew into the family business he became one of the company’s boat-captain tour guides who shared the history and cultural traditions of the Wailua River Valley with visitors from around the world.

Smith became the company’s president after his father died in 1970. In 1983 he expanded the business with the opening of Smith’s Tropical Paradise, a tropical botanical garden that became the home of the Smith Family Garden Luau.

Smith’s son, Walter Kamika Smith III, remembered him as, “A friendly guy that just wanted to do good for his family.”

“Being around him was like being around the friendliest person because everybody loves him,” Kamika Smith said. “As for working with him, he was very strict (about) making sure everybody’s doing their job. He drove around in a golf cart, and as soon as people saw the golf cart coming around the corner, they were jumping up and making sure that they were in their places at work. With the customers he wanted to make (sure) that everyone had a good time.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki in 1992, Smith became Kauai’s “ambassador of tourism,” traveling to visitor industry conventions as far away as Egypt to deliver the message that Kauai had survived and would soon be open for business.

Smith’s involvement in the visitor industry also included membership in the American Society of Travel Agents, the Pacific Asia Travel Association and the Japan Association of Travel Agents. He served on the Hawaiian Homes Commission from 1986 to 1993.

Kamika Smith plans to continue the family legacy.

“I was somewhat groomed (for the business), he said. “I was told, ‘You need to make sure that the family business continues,’ so with my other brother who is also working in the business we’re going to continue the family legacy and continue the tours and the luau. Continue to keep our family employed, as well as all of our employees working, and to share the Hawaiian culture and spirit that my grandfather and father did.”

In addition to his son, Kamika, Smith is survived by his wife, Mokihana; his son Kaleo Smith (Stacie); grandchildren, Trey (Shaianne), Tyler (Shannon) and Kira (Jared) and great grandchildren, Trayce, Teiah and Kailer.

A Celebration of Life will be held May 18 at Smith’s Tropical Paradise, 3-5971 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, Kauai. Visitation with the family will start at 9 a.m. with services to follow.

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