MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Montego Bay business community was rocked by news that tourism ground transportation magnate Ralph Smith passed away at his home in this city yesterday morning.
Smith, the founder of Tropical Tours, was 85.
“He died 2:00 am today [yesterday] in his bed. He passed away peacefully in his sleep,” Smith's son, Fred, who took over the helm of the business after his father retired, told the Jamaica Observer.
Ralph Smith, who retired after years of distinguished service to tourism, has been credited with the modernisation of ground transportation in the sector. In 2005, he was recognised by the Government of Jamaica with the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for the development of ground transportation in the industry.
“He was the person who introduced air-conditioned and modern buses to the industry in the early 1970s. He has really changed the face of tourism in Jamaica,” the younger Smith told the Observer.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett expressed deep regret at the passing of the tourism and transportation pioneer.
“I was very saddened to learn about the passing of Ralph Smith. We will never forget his kindness and invaluable contributions. On behalf of the Government of Jamaica, I offer my sincere condolence to the entire Smith family. I pray that the love of those around you will provide some comfort and support during this period of grief,” a release from the Ministry of Tourism quoted Bartlett.
He noted that Tropical Tours, which was founded more than 45 years ago, is one of the largest transportation companies in the island's tourism sector, and described Smith as a pioneer of “modern ground transportation”.
“He is also credited with introducing several leading international tour operators to the island such as First Choice/ TUI, Hotel Plan, Maxi Tours and Maxi Coverage Company Sun Wing,” Bartlett noted.
“Mr Smith was a brilliant businessman. His passion for tourism and the transportation industry is truly unmatched. I am certain his legacy will live on for years to come. I pray that his soul will be at peace with our Heavenly Father.”
In recognition of his contribution to tourism, Smith received the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Lifetime Achievement Award. Additionally, Tropical Tours has received a number of awards from the JHTA over the years.
Smith was also a past president of the Jamaica Association of Tour Operators.
His passing comes on the heels of the January 4 death of hotel mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart and another Montego Bay business tycoon Tony Hart in August last year.
Fred Smith, who had fond memories of travelling around the world with his father on business and leisure trips, vividly recounted when they attended the 2002 heavyweight boxing championship match between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We were sitting at ringside. Lots of fond memories. Ironically, at ringside were Butch Stewart and his son as well as Ralph Smith and his son at the front and now the two of them [fathers] have passed,” he reflected.
Smith described his father as “a very meticulous person” whom he always tried to emulate.
Also expressing regret at Smith's passing was Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Janet Silvera.
“For us it is a great loss in Montego Bay. I feel like our elders are just going like that. First it was Tony Hart, then Gordon Butch Stewart, now Ralph Smith, who I find, was one of the most accomplished business leaders and philanthropists in western Jamaica. For me, the contribution that he made to the development of Jamaica's tourism transportation sector is unsurpassed, unequalled,” Silvera told the Observer.
“I respected his mind because, for me, this man had a lot of knowledge. He knows about the tourism industry. We have lost a real icon. He was a legend. He has made the city of Montego Bay proud with what he has done with the tourism industry,” she said.
Smith is survived by his wife Joy and seven children.