As a Marine fighter pilot during World War II, Maurice “Bo” Smith flew many harrowing sorties against massive Japanese forces at the battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.
After the war, his thirst for excitement and adventure led him to a group of pioneering divers known as the Bottom Scratchers. The legendary free divers who explored the waters off San Diego before special underwater gear existed allowed only a select few to join the club after passing stringent qualifying tests such as diving at least 30 feet and bringing up three abalone in a single dive. Mr. Smith became part of the group around 1950.
An avid outdoorsman who enjoyed diving, surfing and tennis, Mr. Smith was also known to thousands of San Diego students as a drafting and math teacher and school administrator.
Mr. Smith died of sepsis Nov. 7 at a Vista hospital. He was 87.
Family and friends said Mr. Smith was a soft-spoken natural athlete with an interest in nature.
Friend and brother-in-law Robert Clarke said he was impressed by Mr. Smith’s inexhaustible range of interests and knowledge. Clarke described a 10-day white-water raft trip from the Canadian wilderness through Alaska in the early 1990s. When the two guides couldn’t answer some of the questions from the group about birds, plants, trees or rock formations, Mr. Smith could, “but only if asked … By the end of the trip, the guides were asking Bo.”
Brigit Clarke Smith said her husband credited Bottom Scratchers co-founder Jack Prodanovich with introducing him to a new passion. “He had a hard time (adjusting) after he left the Marines and wasn’t shooting down Japanese Zeroes anymore,” she said. “He (later) told everyone that he was floundering at the time and had started drinking heavily. When he met Jack and started diving, it took away a void, it was exciting, going down deep.”
Maurice Franklin Smith was born March 27, 1922, in Spokane, Wash., to Malcolm and Bertha Erlandson Smith. The family moved to San Diego, where his father was a teacher. Mr. Smith joined the Marines in 1942. He was a Marine lieutenant with Fighter Squadron VMF 223 in the South Pacific. He also served as a flight instructor at El Toro while in the Naval Reserve immediately after the war.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from San Jose State University and a master’s degree from what was then San Diego State College. He married the former Charlotte Stebbins of San Diego in 1950. The couple had two children and divorced in 1970. Mr. Smith married Brigit Clarke in 1986.
He taught drafting, math and graphic arts at several San Diego schools including Hoover High School. Mr. Smith was a vice principal at several schools including Mission Bay, Patrick Henry and Point Loma high schools.
Brigit Smith said her husband used to tell stories about going to the beach to surf after school and noticing that several surfers seemed to be surfing away from him. “He realized they were students of his who had been truant that day,” she said.
Mr. Smith was among those who established the Tourmaline Canyon Surfing Park in Point Loma, according to his family.
Friend Lynn Sparks said Mr. Smith held several spearfishing records. “He was a fantastic diver,” Sparks said. “He worked on the pilot for (the TV series) ‘Sea Hunt’ because Lloyd Bridges didn’t know how to dive.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Smith is survived by a son, Bruce of San Diego; a daughter, Charleen Davis of Sonoma; two stepchildren, Renee Young of Vista and Clarke Young of Santa Monica; a grandson and four stepgrandchildren.
A memorial will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 today ?at La Costa Glen, Catalina Hall in Carlsbad. A military ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. today at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Published in San Diego Union-Tribune from December 1 to December 2, 2009