One Final Mission

Retired United States Air Force veteran Philip Smith honors his wife and those who cared for her, one gift at time.
Photo of CVPH patients Bonnie and Phil Smith

It has been a difficult last year and a half for Phil Smith, who said goodbye to the love of his life in May 2022.

“Bonnie F. Smith was on this Earth for 28,689 days,” he wrote in a special tribute letter to her, admitting he’s still not over her but thankful for every second of the 54 years they spent together.

On his way to meet up with a friend, the 78-year-old Massena, N.Y. native talks about just some of the things that made her so special.

“What a cook she was! If one of her meals had pasta and sauce, it was like heaven,” Smith recalls, adding that she loved music and taught herself how to play the piano and accordion. She even appeared on “The Original Amateur Hour” television show with Ted Mack, a forerunner of Star Search, American Idol and America’s Got Talent.

Smith, who served at bases around the world, remembers how thoughtful and kind she was.

“Bonnie was so caring for other people. She loved being a military wife and considered everyone at each base as part of a family. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she would cook for 10 or 15 soldiers and family members at our place,” Smith says.

As the years went on, she struggled with her health and began receiving care in an assisted living facility. Then on April 29, 2022, she went to the hospital in Massena not feeling well and suffered a heart attack as the emergency department team prepared to transfer her to Plattsburgh.

Smith rushed to the emergency department at the University of Vermont Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital so that he could be with his wife.

“I’m standing there watching my wife die. And then they bring her back to life right in front of my eyes,” he says.

But just after he arrived at the hospital, he also suffered a heart attack and had to be resuscitated.

Bonnie received a pacemaker to help with her heart issues, and Phil had a stent put in a blocked artery.

“God bless them,” Smith says about the physicians, nurses and other staff from cardiology and the emergency department who cared for his wife and him. “We got exceptional care. They saved both of us, and I’m alive to talk about it.”

Bonnie Smith ultimately passed away a month later, but her husband continues to be grateful for the extra time he had to spend with her. “I got an extra month out of it,” he says. “I can’t thank those people at the hospital enough for what they did for us.”

He tries, though. Smith wrote thank you letters and created plaques for each of his physicians. He also donated thousands of dollars to The Foundation of CVPH through its Honor a Caregiver program, which in turn will benefit cardiology patients and those who need emergency care. Smith intends to continue giving to The Foundation every year for the foreseeable future.

“I’m 78. I’m not over Bonnie. I don’t know how many more years I have left, so I’ve got to enjoy my life as best as I can,” Smith says. “Part of what brings me joy is helping people. I believe God kept me here for a reason. I don’t have a lot of expenses. I just live a normal life, and I hope my contributions to The Foundation, to the hospital in Massena, and to others, can mean something and do some good while I’m still here.”

“Phil’s generosity is going to make a huge difference and touch so many lives,” says Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Associate Vice President of Philanthropy Kerry Haley, CFRE. “It means so much to the physicians, nurses and other care team members to be recognized in such a special way by him. And knowing that he’s helping other patients with his donations because of their care is incredibly powerful.”

“Bonnie was always helping her family, buying stuff for nieces and nephews, cousins, anyone she could think of,” Smith remembers fondly “As she got older, she would give money to complete strangers, just wanting to make their lives better,” he says. “That’s what I want to do, too: make other lives better.”

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