The wife of former BBC broadcaster Seamus McKee has seen her beautiful idea of marking their Team GB nephew’s tragic death come to fruition in the form of a hand-crafted bench — with input from all the family.
Chris Smith, whose parents, Ursula and Mike, live in Belfast, failed to return home to his wife and two young sons after going for a run in Scotland’s Perthshire hills in October 2020.
The 43-year-old’s body was found two days later, with a coroner later attributing his death to hypothermia.
In another fitting tribute to their late cousin, Ruth McKee, Cormac Maguire, Julia Maguire, Tom Maguire and Gemma Daly will be running the relay race in Sunday’s Belfast City Marathon to highlight a memorial fund in Mr Smith’s name.
Brenda McKee, who is a sister of Mr Smith’s mother, thought of the perfect way to mark the Whitehall civil servant’s memory in the form of a beautifully crafted wooden bench with 50 engraved signatures from the family.
The oak bench, which sits pride of place in Mr and Mrs McKee’s garden, was designed by Ballymena furniture maker Noel McCullough, who engraved the handwritten signatures and logo of The Chris Smith Memorial Fund.
The grant scheme was launched 12 months ago by Mr Smith’s wife, Lindsay, to help sports people from all walks of life and differing levels of ability cover the cost of travel, training camps and kits.
Veteran journalist Mr McKee said the bench was a “work of art” and hailed the enormous success of the fund.
“Chris had so many associations with Northern Ireland,” said Mr McKee. “That’s where his mum is from and his dad is from Yorkshire.
“Chris was born and brought up in England and Scotland, but they had so many ties with Ursula’s home that Lindsay wanted very much for this fund to benefit athletes in Northern Ireland as well.”
Mr McKee said the entire family still feels Mr Smith’s passing “very deeply”, but the fund has allowed his memory to live on through helping those take part in the sport he loved.
“He was known for helping others, his generosity, his lovely personality, his enormous patience with other people and he was so supportive of other athletes,” he continued.
“God knows he was hugely talented, but it wasn’t his own achievements that most pleased him, it was what he could do to help others. And I think it’s the essence of what the trust is about — he’s still doing that and that’s Chris still living.”
Mr McKee’s daughter Ruth, who will be running the last stretch of the Belfast City Marathon, hopes their fundraiser can highlight the Chris Smith Memorial Fund to athletes across Northern Ireland.
Describing Mr Smith, who helped Team GB win bronze medals in the 2013 European Championships, as an “incredibly talented” runner, Ms McKee said he was so encouraging of people who simply wanted to enjoy the outdoors because the sport meant so much to him.
“The fund is to open up opportunities to people who may be facing obstacles in fell running, mountain running and athletics,” said the Q Radio journalist.
“You need to pay to go to training camps. Kit can be expensive and you have to pay to travel to competitions. Sometimes people may even need childcare whenever they’re going training.”
Ms McKee said it was her family’s hope that many people from Northern Ireland access the fund because of Mr Smith’s connection to the country and its people.
For more information on the Chris Smith Memorial Fund visit www.csmf.org.uk.
If you would like to donate to Chris’ family’s Belfast City Marathon fundraiser you can do so on www.justgiving.com and searching for ‘Chris Smith Relay’.