Living

Keys couple inseparable for 40 years, then passes eight days apart

Barrie and Harrie Smith lived and played side by side.
Barrie and Harrie Smith lived and played side by side.

It was 1975 and it was time.

Harrie Smith gathered up his courage and one of Marathon's most eligible bachelors was about to propose to a gorgeous dark-haired school teacher from Virginia.

Barrie Stoneman met Harrie while in search of adventure on a scuba diving trip. Little did she suspect that her adventure would last 40 years.

Harrie's friends had good reason to be surprised. A handsome well-to-do businessman, he had his choice of local and visiting single beauties. With wavy blonde hair and strikingly good looks, the marina owner had cut a wide swath through the single set on his island home. Most thought he'd never settle into a married lifestyle.

Harrie's life of adventure never missed a beat with the addition of bride Barrie. She was an eager companion in his every pursuit, be it flying their own plane, deep-sea fishing, cruising, scuba diving, motorcycle riding or travel. Harrie had found the ideal life partner.

Forty years later, their life's journey ended almost simultaneously in Marathon when Harrie’s heart stopped on May 17. Barrie's death followed only a week later, on May 24.

Harrie, with assistance of full-time nurses, cared for Barrie during their last year as she suffered the ravages of Lou Gehrig's Disease. It had been tough on both as Barrie first lost her voice, then her ability to swallow, followed by the inevitable feeding tube, respirator and, finally, heavy sedation.

Friends loaned their time and love to the day-to-day care for both Barrie and her also failing husband. The view from his porch allowed Harrie to spend time overlooking the lagoon where his two beloved boats were berthed.

One, a 58-foot sloop, had recently been hauled out for a bottom job and glistened in its slip, longing for the sea, but never to be sailed again with her captain at the helm.

The other, a high-powered 37-foot inboard fishing boat, also awaited his command. But she, too, would remain in her slip.

Boating had been an integral part of Harrie's life since his boyhood in Anna Maria, west of Bradenton, and his World War II U.S. Coast Guard days in charge of a lighthouse crew on a small Aleutian island. After the war, he went into the merchant marine.

Bored and ready to find adventure ashore, Harrie became a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer for a few years. But ever eager for new horizons, Harrie later traveled across the country in the early 1960s in search of a small business to buy. He found his ideal in Flint, Mich., and purchased a neighborhood grocery store. But increasing pressure from big store chains and deterioration of social conditions in his neighborhood expedited his sale of the store after a string of robberies.

Leaving winter and the growing crime threat behind in the early 1970s, he took his profits and headed for the Keys, where he could return to his first love, boating and fishing.

The Boathouse

After a period of searching, Harrie found a small marina in Marathon, bought it and founded The Boathouse, a business with good potential. In  the following years, he refurbished the docks, and started a boat and engine dealership, and an engine repair facility. He also enjoyed the Keys lifestyle and its outstanding boating and fishing. He also earned his pilot's license and enjoyed flying his own Cessna 310, a twin-engine aircraft.

He fished waters of Cuba and the Bahamas, often flying to those locations and renting boats or utilizing his own boats.

In 1975, Barrie Stoneman, a graduate of Longwood College, joined a Virginia group headed for the Keys on a scuba diving expedition. She and Harrie clicked instantly and she was soon on her way back to Virginia to resign from her school coaching job and return to Marathon for their September wedding.

For the next 30 years, the two worked side by side building their business. Barrie handled the bookkeeping and administrative duties while Harrie concentrated on the hands-on responsibilities involved in marine sales and service.

The couple's lives revolved around marine and aviation activities, including the Marathon Yacht Club, where Harrie became commodore and a board member. Many lifelong friendships were launched through their club membership and their active social life within it.

They sold The Boat House in the early 2000s and retired to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

In late years, the Smiths purchased a second home in Fort Myers, where they sheltered their new single-engine airplane in a hangar attached to their house and flew into the runway of the Buckingham Air Park. Their 40-year love story drew to a close when Barrie contracted ALS in 2014 and the two were forced to retreat to limited activities at their Marathon house.

Harrie, born Feb. 3, 1925, in Anna Maria, is survived by daughter Tyla Smith of Dunnellon and sister Joan Mashburn of Charlotte, N.C. He was preceded in death by his parents, Harrie and Dorthy Burson Smith, brother Jackson Smith and sister Janet Chaney.

Barrie, born June 9, 1945, in Richmond, Va., is survived by brother Gregory P. Stoneman and sister-in-law Michele A. Stoneman Richmond, stepdaughter Tyla M. Smith of Dunnellon, nephews Paul C. Stoneman and Matthew C. Smith, and nieces Michelle E. and Andrea N. Stoneman.

A memorial service will be held in Marathon sometime in summer. Memorial donations can be made to the ALS Foundation.

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