PUD Bids Farewell to Smith

Late Director Saw Utility Through Many Changes

Clay Smith, Northern Wasco County PUD Director since 2003, died May 5.

Longtime PUD Director Clay Smith, 72, died May 8, 2019, after enjoying a hobby that he loved, auto racing.

He was driving May 4 on a track in Washington when he suddenly pulled over and turned the car off. He had quit breathing, his wife Karen Smith says and was taken to a Yakima hospital, where he died four days later.

Clay served as PUD Director for Subdivision 3 starting in 2003. He helped set policy during the PUD’s intense exploration of new and innovative power resources in the wake of major changes at Bonneville Power Administration in the early and mid-2000s. More recently, he and fellow directors green-lighted a 10-year, $50 million capital improvements plan designed to assure the availability and reliability of affordable and renewable electrical power throughout the PUD’s distribution system and to make more advanced services available to customers.

“From the moment I met Clay, I knew he was going to be a passionate supporter of infrastructure and fair investment in its care and upkeep,” says PUD General Manager Roger Kline. “He wasn’t one to mince words and made it very clear to me that work was to be accomplished right the first time. It was always a great pleasure going over Board business with him and I greatly appreciate how he cared for all PUD customers and staff
personally, and not just because of his Board position. I really miss him and know he’s made a permanent, positive impact on my life.”

Director Clay Smith poses at a PUD retirement party with his wife, Karen.

“Clay was always ready to ask the tough questions, whether it agreed with conventional thinking or not,” says Dan Williams. “I will miss his thought-provoking comments and he is truly missed at our utility.”

Clay and his wife Karen met in 1992 and started playing tennis together and then started cycling together. They were married in 1994. Before his retirement, he worked in the Service Department at Urness Motors for many years, and before that at Thomas Motors.

“He just liked to go, go, go,” Karen says and enjoyed teaching young people how to play tennis, ride bicycles, and, as they grew older, how to drive a car. “He was very generous of his time and cognizant of making sure this world was going to be in continuing good shape.”

Director Roger Howe knew Clay longer than any of the others, though he has only been on the PUD Board for a couple of years.

They first met shortly after high school while working at Stadelman Fruit. Later, they were tennis partners.

“He was one of the most competitive men I’ve ever known,” Roger says with a chuckle. “Before he’d walk onto the court, he was the nicest, kindest man around. He went in as Dr. Jeckyll and played as Mr. Hyde.”

Clay, at left, poses with fellow directors, Connie Karp, Howard Gonser, and Dan Williams at the 2018 Northwest Public Power Association annual meeting.

Roger said they became closer once he joined the PUD Board while traveling to different meetings around the Pacific Northwest.

“We were dealing with engineers and people with incredible IQs and he would stand up afterward and ask all kinds of questions,” Roger says. “He always put them to the test.”

He says Clay was known and loved throughout the public power family after his many years on the board.

Clay was involved in a number of other community efforts.

He served on the North Wasco County School Board for a time, actively promoted road improvements to help keep cyclists safe, and was the main organizer for some years of the Wasco Wild West 75 recumbent and tandem bike race.