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Harry Leslie Smith, Veteran And Activist, Dies At 95

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The activist and World War II veteran Harry Leslie Smith has died. He was 95 years old when he passed away on Wednesday morning at a hospital in Ontario, Canada.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Smith was known for his social activism inspired by what he saw during the Great Depression and World War II. He campaigned for universal health care for years. In a 2014 speech to the U.K. Labour Party, he said his parents were unable to afford a doctor for his sister when she was ill. She died of tuberculosis when Smith was just 4 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRY LESLIE SMITH: My family's story isn't unique. Sadly, rampant poverty and no health care were the norm for the Britain of my youth. That injustice galvanized my generation to become, after to the Second World War, the tide that raised all boats.

GREENE: Smith's activism began after he retired from the military and moved to Canada. Decades later, when he was 91, he became a bestselling author. The book "Harry's Last Stand" was a rallying call for future generations to provide a social safety network for everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: My memories and my voice are my last weapon against the political tides that want to return Britain and the world to the darkness of my youth.

INSKEEP: He spent the final years of his life touring refugee camps around the world and searching for solutions. In a video for The Guardian, Smith said he was inspired to act by the refugees he encountered as a soldier in Hamburg, Germany.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: As I travelled through the city on the back of an army truck, you could no longer tell who was rich or poor. All I could tell was the war had stolen everything from them but the will to survive.

INSKEEP: Now, after his death, Smith's son John reposted a video showing hundreds of people standing to cheer for him.

GREENE: He said his dad heard them and, quote, "smiled like he had when he had been hale and hearty." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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