Harry Leslie Smith, veteran turned social activist, dies at 95

28 Nov 2018 | Canada
Harry Leslie Smith, veteran turned social activist, dies at 95

A prominent anti-poverty activist, who authored several books on the Great Depression, the Second Word War and postwar austerity, has died in an eastern Ontario hospital.

Harry Leslie Smith's son, who has been issuing regular medical updates to his father's 250,000 Twitter followers, said the 95-year-old died early this morning.

Smith, who lived through the Great Depression and fought in the British air force during the Second World War, has been a lifelong advocate for the poor.

Online tributes have been pouring in for him as he received treatment in an intensive care unit in Belleville, Ont., after his family said he suffered a fall.

Notables including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, actress Mia Farrow and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are among the supporters who extended their well wishes to the famed activist.

'The world's oldest rebel'
His son John has said on Twitter that his father expressed his appreciation for the support he's received.

 "I told Harry before he fell into a deep sleep about the concern rippling across Twitter for him and he said to me, 'Tell them, I love each of them so much,"' John wrote on Twitter.

Smith, who split his time living in England and Canada, rose to online prominence as a nonagenarian for his progressive polemics rooted in personal strife.

Born in Yorkshire, England, Smith's four-year-old sister died of tuberculosis in 1926, his family too poor to afford proper medical care before the formation of the National Health Service.

In several books and essays, Smith drew parallels between his own brushes with global crises of the past and current turmoil that affects the marginalized. He was particularly critical of the dismantling of social-welfare systems, the inequities of unchecked capitalism and the rising threat of nationalism.

"I am the world's oldest rebel," Smith told UNHCR Magazine in October. "I think there are many things we can do if we put our minds to it, and we shouldn't be leaving anyone out."

Harry Leslie Smith in Hamburg, Germany, May 1945. Smith survived extreme poverty during his childhood, the Great Depression, the Second World War and later in life, the loss of his wife and one of his three sons. (Harry Leslie Smith) CBC