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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2001

Honeywell vice president was WW II fighter pilot

Ralph W. Smith, 85, a former fighter pilot, Honeywell vice president, and University of Toledo booster, died of cancer yesterday at his home in South Toledo.

“Ralph's faith came to life in World War II; that's when he made all his promises,” said Jana Gessner, his stepdaughter. “He told the Lord if he survived the war, he'd be a Christian the rest of his life. And he kept his word.”

Mr. Smith was born in Toledo and raised in the Hungarian section of East Toledo. He attended Waite High School, and enjoyed singing its fight song to the end of his days, said his wife, Virginia.

He served four years in the Army Air Corps, and his tales of aerial combat over Okinawa entertained generations of children. When the war ended, he attended the University of Toledo under the G.I. Bill program. He earned a degree in electrical engineering and developed a lifelong devotion to UT athletics.

He married Ruth Robarge soon after his 1948 graduation; the pair moved to Reynolds Corners and raised a son, Scott. Mrs. Smith died in 1984.

Mr. Smith was hired soon after college at Honeywell Industrial Controls Division and helped design mechanical monitoring devices for local refineries and factories. He rose to a vice presidency before he retired in 1981.

Sporting events were his passion, his stepdaughter said. He was twice elected president of the UT Alumni Association, and won its Blue T Award. Mr. Smith was “a fixture” at Rocket football and baseball games.

He also scouted northwest Ohio colleges for talented players for the Chicago White Sox from 1984 to 1995. He enjoyed playing golf at local courses, and belonged to church and retiree leagues for several years.

He loved his church, and met his second wife, Virginia Plageman, at an Epiphany Lutheran event. They married in 1992, and spent their days shopping, traveling, and playing cards with friends from church. They spent winter months in Englewood, Fla., where Mr. Smith faithfully attended White Sox spring training camp each year.

“He was a fun, outgoing, humorous man who just loved holidays,” Ms. Gessner said. “Just this Halloween, he was out there in his nerd glasses and clown nose, handing out candy to the kids. He was always upbeat, always clean. I never heard him swear.”

In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, he is survived by his son, Scott; stepson, David Plageman; a sister-in-law, and three grandchildren.

The body will be at the Thomas I. Wisniewski Funeral Home from 2 to 9 p.m. tomorrow. Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Epiphany Lutheran Church.

The family requests tributes to the church.

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