Matthew Edward Smith-Farrell, a counselor who worked with unwed mothers, the homeless, families of organ donors and others, died of brain cancer Sunday at Villa Marie Claire hospice in Saddlebrook, N.J.
The former Laurel resident was 53.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Severna Park, he was the son of Brendan Smith, a Westinghouse graphic artist, and Nan Judge Smith, an elementary school teacher.
He was a 1980 graduate of Severna Park High School, where he played soccer. He earned a bachelor's degree in English literature at what is now Loyola University Maryland.
After college, he and a friend backpacked and bicycled throughout Europe.
"While on this trip, he became inspired by the idea of living in another culture," said his wife of nearly 17 years, Joanne Smith-Farrell. "When he came home, he earned enough money for a one-way plane ticket to Japan. He arrived in Tokyo with no job, no place to live and no knowledge of the Japanese language."
Mr. Smith-Farrell found a room to live in and began studying the language. He found there was too much English spoken in Tokyo for his liking, so he moved to Numazu, where he taught English for nearly four years.
He returned to Baltimore and entered St. Mary's Seminary & University, where he earned a master's degree. Ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he served at St. Dominic Church in Hamilton in the mid-1990s.
"He was a fine man of much promise," said the Rev. Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew's Church in Manchester. "I knew him 45 years ago, and he was a splendid person."
He later left the priesthood and became a counselor. He also a public speaker and writer.
His wife said that her husband's friends felt he had nine lives.
"Matthew's professional work, first as a priest, and then as a professional counselor in various settings, was rooted in his appreciation for the meaning contained in 'the encounter with the other,'" she said.
He joined the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, now the Living Legacy Foundation, in Odenton, counseling families as they dealt with the death of a loved one who had donated an organ.
"As a counselor, he was enormously empathetic and connected instantly with his clients," his wife said.
She said her husband worked with immigrants, prisoners, veterans, people suffering from addiction, unwed mothers, homeless people and the severely mentally ill.
In 2007, he moved from Laurel and lived for a time in Manhattan. He and his wife eventually resided in Summit, N.J. Most recently he had been a counselor at Trinity Counseling Service of Princeton, N.J.
The couple has three children, and Mrs. Smith-Farrell said her husband cherished being a father.
She said he wrote several months ago: "I looked my best as I saw the joyful, noisy chaos of three little girls, loving life with their Daddy romping right along with them."
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He was an enthusiastic athlete who played soccer, swam and ran marathons. He wrote poetry and prose, and was a patron of art, music and theater. He spoke Spanish in addition to Japanese.
He visited 51 countries and lived, at times, in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic in addition to Japan. He also enjoyed camping, hiking and Eastern Shore boating. He read widely and maintained a library of music and books.
"His taste in books in music was eclectic," said his wife. "He was also an unabashed foodie. One of Matthew's greatest joys was to settle in at a great restaurant, ask the waiter not to rush it, and savor four hours of fine food, wine and conversation. The talk was his favorite part of the meal."
She said he believed a cure for his type of brain cancer, glioblastoma, was on the medical horizon. To that end, she said, the Matthew Smith-Farrell Brain Cancer Research Fund has been established at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville.
In addition to his wife, a vice president of business development transactions at Merck Research Labs, survivors include three daughters, Alana Marie, 10, and 5-year-old twins Caileigh Rose and Aveleen "Ava" Liliana of Summit, N.J.; his father, of Baltimore; and two brothers, Brian Smith of Odenton and Mark Smith of Annapolis.