Cameron Smyth has a heart for public service

Cameron Smyth, left, and family. From left, Cameron, Rowan, 13, Kenley, 9, Lena and Gavin 15. Dan Watson/The Signal

City Councilman Cameron Smyth currently serves as mayor pro tem for the City of Santa Clarita. Per tradition, in December, Smyth should be elected by his fellow councilmembers to a one-year term as mayor.

As the City Council system works in Santa Clarita, it isn’t the first time he has served as mayor. His previous terms were in 2003, 2005 and 2017.

In 1999, Smyth married his wife, Lena. “We just celebrated 20 years,” he said. The couple have three children, Gavin, 15; Rowan, 13; and Kenley, 9.

A native son

Smyth was born at Huntington Memorial Hospital on Aug. 19, 1971, in Pasadena to Sue and Clyde Smyth. His father, an educator, had been named principal of Placerita Junior High School in 1969.

“My parents and older brother had lived in Sierra Madre, but the family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley the year I was born,” Smyth said. “Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital was not yet built, and the 210 freeway had just been opened so they decided to keep the same doctors they had for my brother, Colin.”

Smyth attended Peachland Elementary School, Placerita Junior High and Hart High School before majoring in rhetoric and communications at the University of California, Davis where he received his bachelor’s degree.

He lettered in track, volleyball and football in high school. “In football, I played wide receiver and free safety,” he said. In college, Smyth played volleyball and football the first year, then focused on football, where he was a wide receiver, for the remaining three years.

Today, Smyth still lives in Newhall, not far from where he grew up. “Except for college, and a short stint living in Valencia, I’ve lived in the Happy Valley area of Newhall my entire life,” he said. “I currently live three minutes, at most, from the house I grew up in, and where my mother still lives.”

Smyth’s children are attending the same schools he did as a child. “It is fun to see all three of my kids following the same path,” he said.

Cameron Smyth. Dan Watson/The Signal

Growing up in Santa Clarita

“Growing up in the SCV was great,” Smyth said. “It was one of the reasons I chose to stay here and raise my kids, because of the great experiences I had growing up.”

Smyth said the SCV was much more rural than it is now, with no mall and just a few shopping centers. Newhall Ranch Road and Golden Valley Road had yet to be built, and the population hovered around 65,000, compared to more than 200,000 residents today.

“I had the very traditional 1970’s and 1980’s childhood where we spent our summers playing the sport of the season out in the street, until the street lights came on, drinking from the garden hose, leaving the house after breakfast, getting on our bikes, coming home for lunch, then back out until the end of the day,” he said. “It was different than what my kids are experiencing, but Santa Clarita is still a great place to grow up.”

Clyde and Sue Smyth

Smyth’s parents were well-known in the Santa Clarita Valley during his youth.

Clyde Smyth served as principal of Placerita Junior High School from 1969 until he was named superintendent of the William S. Hart School District in 1974. He retired from the position in 1992.

“The fact my dad was able to stay as superintendent is really a testament to his ability and his success in the job,” said Smyth. “Most superintendents don’t last almost 20 years, it’s just not the nature of the job.”

Smyth’s mother, Sue, was a teacher at Peachland Elementary when Smyth attended the school. “The joke was always that if I got busted for something before lunch my mom would hear about it in the lunchroom,” he said.

His father was Hart superintendent when Smyth was in junior high and high school.

Smyth said his father endured some contentious times as superintendent with teacher contract disputes. “My dad always made it clear to my brother and I, if a teacher disagreed with him it wasn’t up to us to fight his battles,” he said. “We were to show that teacher nothing but respect.”

Clyde Smyth died in January 2012 at age 80.

Cameron and Lena Smyth. Dan Watson/The Signal

Back to the SCV

After graduation, Smyth returned home to help with his father’s campaign for Santa Clarita City Council. Clyde Smyth, now retired, had decided to continue his life of community service by running for public office. In April of 1994, he was elected to the council and served as mayor in 1997.

“After college I went to work for my dad’s campaign. I was much more nervous on my dad’s election night than I ever was on mine. I think that’s normal. I am more nervous at my son’s soccer games than I ever was at mine,” he said.

“My assignment was to sit at City Hall and call my dad every time a precinct was announced. When the final precinct came in, he won by eight votes. After the recount dad ended up doubling his victory and earning the nickname of “Landslide Clyde.”

Smyth then completed an internship with U.S. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon-R, Santa Clarita, followed by a brief job with the California state Republican party.

Smyth then became the Santa Clarita field representative for State Assemblyman Pete Knight. He worked for Knight 1994-2000, and was his campaign manager when Knight was elected to the California state senate in 1996.

Newly married Smyth decided to switch to the private sector and went to work in communications for Shell Oil Company from 2000-2005.

The Smyth family from left, grandmother, Sue, Rowan, 12, Gavin, 14, dad, Cameron, Kenley, 8, and , mom, Lena pour sugar into the mixing bowl as they make Sue’s 1950’s recipe for “ranger cookies” at Cameron Smyth’s home in Newhall on Friday, September 28, 2019. (Photo by Dan Watson)

Santa Clarita City Council

“I ran for City Council in 1998 after my dad finished his term and I lost,” Smyth said. “That was a real pivotal time for me to make a decision on which direction I wanted to go. I took a couple weeks feeling sorry for myself and finally got some perspective, everybody who had beaten me had run before and lost.”

Smyth said he was 26 at the time and feels he wasn’t mature enough to run a successful campaign.

“I decided to run again in 2000 and do all the things I had advised other candidates running for City Council to do. If I lost, I would know that I had put everything I could into it and I could live with that.”

He was elected to the council in 2000 at age 28. He served as mayor in 2003 at age 31 and was re-elected in 2004. Smyth became a State Assemblyman representing Santa Clarita in 2006 which required him to resign from the City Council.

A heart for service

Smyth left the legislature in 2012 and went to work in the private sector for Molina Healthcare as vice president of state affairs. “When I was termed out of the assembly, I still had a heart for service,” he said. “However, it was time for me to come back home and be a better husband and a better father.

“Spending eight months of the year in Sacramento, I missed a lot of my kids’ development and my daughter was born when I was in the assembly. Lena was basically a single mom during that time.”

After getting his new job and reconnecting with Santa Clarita, Smyth found himself being encouraged to run again for Santa Clarita City Council.

“I hadn’t thought about it, but once that idea was put forward, it seemed to be a perfect fit,” he said. “I still wanted to serve, but I wanted to do it here at home. Lena and the kids gave the green light, so I decided to jump back into local government.”

Smyth said it is funny how things go full circle.

“When I was running for council in 2016, my older son was at Placerita and I found myself giving my son the same talk that my dad had with me,” he said. “I told him, ‘Not everyone is going to think I’m as cool as you do.’ I told him, ‘It’s not your job to engage in those discussions. It’s your job to do your work in school.’ I did find the irony that 30-some years later I’m having the same discussion with my kids that my dad had with me.”

Smyth’s office in City Hall is the same office his dad occupied during his stint on the council. “That’s very meaningful to me,” he said.

FRom left, Rowan, 13, Gavin, 15, Lena, Cameron and Kenley, 9 Dan Watson/The Signal

Lena Smyth

Lena Smyth was born in Panorama City and raised in the Antelope Valley, the oldest of four, she has two brothers and one sister. She grew up in Lancaster before the family moved to Quartz Hill, and is a graduate of Paraclete High School. “I did yearbook, was a cheerleader and in ASB, all that fun stuff in high school,” she said.

She is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach with a double major in journalism and political science.

“My first job out of college was working at a local TV station in the Antelope Valley,” she said. “I was an on-air reporter and that was where I met Cameron. The first time we met I was covering a Lancaster City Council meeting. He was making a presentation on behalf of Pete Knight to the council.”

Lena Smyth said she always liked to write and enjoyed public speaking.

“That’s why I chose broadcast journalism,” she said. “I was always very passionate about politics. Cameron comes from a very political family, but I don’t at all. I really enjoyed all my political science classes.”

After she married, she knew her future was in the SCV. “I love reporting, but I don’t miss it,” she said. “When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in political science from California State University, Northridge.”

Lena Smyth said she had always planned to eventually transition into teaching. Today, she is an adjunct professor in political science at College of the Canyons, where she has taught for 11 years.

However, she said, “I think my biggest passion right now is my family and my kids.”

Show business

Two of the three Smyth children are now working in “the business.”

Rowan Smyth is currently in the mini-series “Shangri-La” on Showtime.

He has also appeared on “CSI: New Orleans” and in the Christian film, “I Believe,” for which he was nominated as Best Actor at the International Christian Film Festival.

Daughter Kenley has appeared in the show “American Horror Story” and with Nicole Kidman in the film “Destroyer.”

The children also have appeared in national commercials and print ads.

Smyth said his oldest son, Gavin, “plays soccer and runs track at Hart. It’s fun to see him compete on the same fields I did all those years ago.”

Giving back Smyth said his parents’ years of service to the community made a big impact on his life. “It’s something I take great pride in that my parents were so well thought of as community leaders and supporters,” he said. “It’s nice to know that your parents set a high standard for my brother and I. Hopefully I can pass that on to my kids.”

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