Philip Smaby, who cofounded the former Bermel-Smaby Realty Co. and led several real estate trade associations, died of lung cancer on Oct. 21 at his home in Bloomington.
Smaby, who had lived in Minneapolis until a few years ago, was 90.
"He was really motivated by interacting with people," said his son Gary of Minneapolis.
After graduating from high school in Rushford, Minn., where he played basketball, he attended St. Olaf College in Northfield. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business in 1941.
While working for Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, Calif., he married Margaret Hagen. By 1943, he joined the Navy, serving in San Francisco.
After the war, the young family returned to Minneapolis, and in 1946, he started the real estate firm with Ben Bermel.
The duo built one of the largest home realty firms in the Twin Cities.
"He had the ability to lead other people to be the best they could be," said Bermel's son Bruce of Minnetonka, an industrial-commercial real estate broker. "He let people run with the ball."
Ben Bermel died in 1973, and Bruce Bermel would eventually help lead the firm with Smaby.
He was "such a fair" man, Bermel said. "Phil was a rock, and a mentor."
By the mid-1980s, when the firm was sold, it had 17 offices and more than 350 sales associates in the Twin Cities.
Over the years, Smaby served as president of local, national and international real estate trade associations, including the National Association of Realtors, where he served as president in 1976, and as a member of its executive council for 42 years until his death.
His son John, who serves on the executive council, said he was a "very early pioneer" in the formation of the multiple listing service in Minneapolis.
And while he was successful in business, he told his family, "It's not how much money you make, it's the friends that you make along your journey that will bring you the greatest joy in your life," John said.
For years, he had a lake home near Marcell, Minn. While in his 60s, he saw an opportunity to provide seed money in a Marcell business that became ASV Inc.
Edgar Hetteen, the inventor behind the snowmobiles that became Polaris and Arctic Cat, and Gary Lemke of Grand Rapids developed a small loader that used all-rubber tracks that cause less damage to the terrain it travels over.
Smaby raised funds from other Marcell retirees and kicked in some of his own to help the company grow.
"Little did he know how many he affected by putting in the money, providing hundreds of jobs locally" and boosting the economy, said Lemke, former CEO and chairman of ASV.
When the company was sold this year, it had about $220 million in annual sales.
Smaby's wife of 61 years, Margaret, died in 2003.
In addition to sons Gary and John, he is survived by another son, Mark, of Bloomington; a daughter, Anne Smaby Hersch of Minneapolis; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.