Phil Smart Sr. served as a volunteer at Seattle Children's for 46 years, from 1961 to 2007, spending most Wednesday evenings on the Rehabilitation Unit. He was also the Children's Santa Claus – known fondly to patients as "The Real Santa Claus" – for 26 years. He was so involved with patients and the hospital that our volunteer office was named the Philip M. Smart Volunteer Office in 2004.
Even after "retiring" from volunteering he came in on the first Wednesday of every month to drop off Beanie Babies in the Emergency Department. He also continued to serve as an ambassador for Children's, even speaking to the Seattle City Council on behalf of Children's Building Hope expansion.
Phil referred to Children's patients as his "teachers" and to the hospital as a "Miracle House." He says he witnessed many miracles over the years, which are the subject of two self-published books and a DVD titled Angels Among Us. He contributed all proceeds to the Philip M. Smart Sr. Endowment for the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.
"Phil's presence in our office was always a special treat and he was welcomed by all – those who knew him well, and those who may have only heard of him," says Alison Garrison, volunteer manager. "He loved the opportunity to welcome new or prospective volunteers to his 'Miracle House' and he would always find time to share something special with each person. I always looked forward to our time together where he would share a special story with me, or – as he sometimes referred to them – a 'God Wink.' These stories, short or long, sometimes bittersweet, were always entwined with inspiration. My day was always better after his visit. He was loved and admired by everyone here in the office."
The legacy Phil leaves behind includes the Phil Smart Sr. Guild, benefiting Rehabilitation Medicine, and the Phil and Helen Smart "Unknown Child" Endowment for International Patients, which provides funding so Children's pediatric specialty expertise can benefit children who reside in other countries.
"Phil is the gold standard as a human being," says Doug Picha, president of Seattle Children's Hospital and Research Foundation. "He embodied what it means to give back and set a whole new bar on how to live your life. He took great pleasure in giving himself to the children we serve here at the hospital."
Over the years Phil received several awards for his volunteerism and service to the Seattle community, including the YMCA A.K. Guy Award for Outstanding Volunteerism in 2011; the Stanley O. McNaughton Champion of Freedom Award in 2008; and the First Citizen Award from the Seattle–King County Association of Realtors in 1994.
"It is a tremendous loss for the Seattle Children's family," says Peggy Habegger, honorary trustee and former president of Seattle Children's Hospital Board of Trustees. "One of the greatest rewards of my decades-long affiliation with Children's is my friendship with Phil."
Phil is survived by his wife of 71 years, Helen, and by Phil Smart Jr., daughter Dianne Brady, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Gifts can be made in his memory to the Phil and Helen Smart "Unknown Child" Endowment for International Patients.