Deaver Y. Smith Jr., 75, coffee, tea merchant


Deaver Y. Smith Jr., who operated the Smith Punch Base Coffee and Tea Co. and was a retired insurance claims adjuster, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at Sinai Hospital. The Forest Park resident was 75.

Mr. Smith's father, Deaver Y. Smith Sr., founded the company in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Ave. in 1906. At that time, it was the third black-owned business to open in that area of West Baltimore.

The senior Mr. Smith mixed and roasted teas and coffees that quickly gained favor with Baltimoreans. He sold the products door to door, and delivered them to restaurants and catering companies, such as Waters Catering Co., from three wagons and later a panel truck.

Because of urban renewal, the company -- by then a wholesale operation only -- was forced to relocate to Orem Avenue, also on the west side, in the early 1980s. The store has much of the original equipment and furnishings from the Pennsylvania Avenue store, including a gooseneck telephone, which the Smiths had the telephone company update with a rotary dial.

"Grandfather took great pride in the business and so did my father," said Albert M. Smith, a son, who worked with his father and will operate the company.

Albert Smith said his father had inherited the grandfather's expertise in blending and roasting coffees, teas and spices.

"He could taste and smell anything and tell what spices were in it -- he had such a remarkable nose. He could actually tell whether pure or imitation vanilla had been used in a cake," Albert Smith said.

In addition to working in the family business, Mr. Smith Jr. was a claims adjuster for Maryland Indemnity Insurance Co. from 1968 to 1979.

He was born and raised on Craddock Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. He graduated from Douglass High School in 1937 and earned his bachelor's degree from what was then Morgan State College in 1947. He did graduate studies at American and Howard universities.

Mr. Smith enlisted in the Army in 1942 and participated in the D-Day invasion and later was assigned to the Pacific. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of staff sergeant. His decorations included the American Theater Service Ribbon, European Africa Middle Eastern Service Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Theater Service Ribbon and World War II Victory Medal.

"He loved drinking good coffee and good conversation," said a daughter, Rosalind Smith Allen of San Antonio, who described her father as "gregarious and witty."

"He was a strong believer in education, and he pushed all of us through college. We knew he had high expectations for us," Mrs. Allen said. "He was always calling to see what our grades were and saying, 'I knew you could do it. You're an A student.' "

Mr. Smith enjoyed traveling by automobile and collected vintage Packards, Studebakers and Cadillacs.

Services will be held at noon tomorrow at Union Baptist Church, 1217 Druid Hill Ave.

Other survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Anna Young; another son, Deaver Y. Smith III of Baltimore; two other daughters, Anna Deavere Smith of San Francisco and Jennifer A. Smith of Washington; two brothers, Biggs F. Smith of Harrisburg, Pa., and Nelson Smith of Pacifica, Calif.; two sisters, Virginia Clarke of East Orange, N.J., and Elizabeth Fraser of Trenton, N.J.; and four grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to Children First, c/o Union Baptist Church, 1217 Druid Hill Ave., Baltimore 21217.

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