Tributes paid to Sunderland boxing great Hughie Smith

Hughie Smith in his fighting days.

Hughie Smith in his fighting days.

1
Have your say

Tributes have been paid to a family man who made his name as a professional boxer.

Hughie Smith, who has passed away at the age of 93, was one of a series of Wearside boxers to rise to fame in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Hughie Smith pictured at a recent family gathering with grandchildren Shannon Smith and Jamie Pearson and his daughter Julia Arkley Smith.

Hughie Smith pictured at a recent family gathering with grandchildren Shannon Smith and Jamie Pearson and his daughter Julia Arkley Smith.

As a Southwick lad, his interest in the sport was sparked while he was a pupil at St Hilda’s School and he won his first ever bout when he was just 12, when he was a member of the Catholic Youth Association based in Matlock Street, with fights held at the Royal Stadium in Bedford Street.

At 14 he left school and worked at Austin and Pickersgill shipyard and as a plater at Clarks, while he began to train at Jack Cumming’s gym, in Matamba Terrace, Milfield, alongside fellow pro Tom Smith.

Hughie, known for his two-handed attacking style which pleased the crowds, turned professional in 1939 and was first managed by Mr Cummings, a local builder, before he was taken on by Jack McBeth.

In 1944, Hughie volunteered for the RAF and became a trainee air gunner, but after three months he was drafted back to the shipyards with reserved occupation status, while after the war he took up a labouring job.

He was very sociable – a real ‘people’ person – who loved a party.

Julia Arkley Smith

He went on to fight in Glasgow, Blackpool, Derby, Doncaster, London and Liverpool and event an open air contest held in Roker Park.

In 1949 he took on Shildon fighter Jimmy Trotter at Hendon Cricket Ground, where a crowd of 2,000 people saw him win the Northern Area Lightweight Championship.

When he moved to London, Ontario, he was soon back in the ring, but he fought his last fight of his career at the Motor City Arena in Detroit in 1951.

His job at the Labatt’s brewery and his growing family meant the 28-year-old found it hard to fit in fights.

Hughie Smith in the ring at Roker Park in 1945.

Hughie Smith in the ring at Roker Park in 1945.

Hughie, who had married fellow Wearsider Grace, had the first two of their children in Canada and stayed for eight years before moving back to Sunderland.

On his return home, he found a job at an engineering firm on Southwick Trading Estate, where he stayed until his retirement.

He became a member of Sunderland Ex-Boxer Association, which hosted a celebration of his sporting career at Southwick Social Club in 1974, which brought together many of his former opponents.

Hughie was widowed 15 years ago when wife Grace, a dressmaker, died aged 77.

A cutting from the Sunderland Echo in January 1986 looking back at his boxing career.

A cutting from the Sunderland Echo in January 1986 looking back at his boxing career.

They were parents to Julia Arkley Smith, 63, Sheila Wilson, 67, Jean Oxman, 65, Greg, 59, and Michael, 57, and he had 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

He died at home in his sleep late last month.

Julia described him as a “kind and generous man” who supported charities which supported young people.

She added: “He was very sociable – a real ‘people’ person – who loved a party.

“Dad was always into physical fitness, even long after his boxing career was over.

“He was still doing press-ups every day well into his seventies.

“He never learned to drive and if his destination was within walking distance he walked.

“I’m sure some people on the north side of Sunderland will remember him walking everywhere and he would stop to have a chat with anyone who was willing to spend the time.”

“Dad was a real family man and loved to spend time with his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who all loved him and are very proud of his boxing career.

“The single word that most people would use to describe Dad is ‘gentleman’.

“He was a perfect Dad and will be sadly missed.”

Hughie’s funeral will be held at St Hilda’s Church in Southwick on Tuesday at 10am.