Richard Ferree Smith Sr., 85, of Chestnut Hill, a humanitarian who worked with Quaker and other groups in Palestine, South America and Philadelphia, died of a bacterial infection Wednesday at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Born in West Mount Airy, Mr. Smith graduated in 1940 from Germantown Friends School. While earning a bachelor's in history from Harvard University (Class of 1944), he met Virginia Meyer, a native of Chestnut Hill and a student at Wellesley College. They married in 1945.

Mr. Smith became a purchasing agent at the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia in 1944. Four years later, he moved to Palestine, where he was chief procurement officer for a Quaker relief team in Gaza and Egypt for a year. He remained in the Middle East until 1951 with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Mr. Smith returned to Philadelphia and earned a master's in education from Temple University in 1953. He lived in Chestnut Hill and commuted to New York, where he earned a master's in social work in 1958 from Columbia University.

Based in New York, he commuted from Chestnut Hill and worked as director of overseas ministries for the National Council of Churches/Church World Service. He coordinated disaster relief and agriculture, nutrition, family planning and literacy projects for six South American countries.

"He traveled to South America almost constantly," said his wife, who was home in Chestnut Hill raising the couple's five children. "Richard was an unfailing advocate for the socially and economically disenfranchised."

Mr. Smith returned to work in Philadelphia in 1971. He worked for Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia where he headed housing initiatives for the homeless, low-income elderly and the developmentally disadvantaged. Mr. Smith helped establish the Episcopal Task Force on Housing under President Jimmy Carter's initiative on the family. He organized the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness and was a delegate to the national conference. He retired in 1988.

Mr. Smith was an ardent gardener who won first place in 1994 in the city garden contest sponsored by Philadelphia Horticulture Society. His half-acre garden has 26 varieties of ground covers, 51 types of perennials, 36 types of shrubs and 34 kinds of annuals - which he watered with rainwater he collected on his garage roof.

Mr. Smith planted 400 tulip bulbs the day before he died. Before he fell ill on Wednesday, he was preparing to plant 300 dahlia bulbs.

"My father worked six hours a day in his garden in the middle of August last year," said son Richard Jr. "He found solace, enjoyed the accomplishment, and loved to take friends on tours through his magnificent garden."

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Smith is survived by another son, Trevor; daughters Tacy, Melanie and Meredith; and five grandchildren.

A memorial meeting for worship will be held at 3 p.m. next Saturday at Germantown Meeting.

Donations may be made to Germantown Meeting, 47 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia 19144.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.