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In Memoriam: Martin Leonard “Smiley” Connolly

Martin Leonard “Smiley” Connolly


martin leonard smiley connolly

Martin Leonard “Smiley” Connolly passed away peacefully at the Bishop Care Center on the morning of December 9, 2023, after a long, full, and meaningful life. He was 92.

Smiley was born in Santa Barbara, California on February 17, 1931, to Lydon Hedden Connolly and Inez Matilda “Stella” Connolly (Read). He was the seventh of nine children. The family was so poor that it would be nearly impossible to talk about Smiley’s life without mentioning The Great Depression. Throughout his life, he was a master storyteller, and many of his tales related to growing up during hard times. Among these were:

Having to alternate school days with his sister, as they only had a single pair of shoes between them.

His older brother holding Smiley’s hands at school while they prayed there would be food for them at home.

Smiley (who was strikingly handsome his whole life) once taking first place in a toddler beauty contest that won his family free milk for a year. During the Depression, this was no small matter.

Despite the difficulty of these years, Smiley constantly recognized the strength and hard work of his mother, who kept the family together. His respect and admiration for her shaped his values.

The family lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during Smiley’s high school years. There he attended Richmond High School and excelled in track. This is probably the best place to mention how he got his nickname, “Smiley.” It was not solely because he laughed and told jokes; he also smiled when it was time to settle something with bare knuckles. (Not surprisingly, given his background, he could be something of a toughie in his younger days.) He was known primarily as “Smiley” for the rest of his life.

Around 1950, Smiley met Vivian “Coss” Culp in Orange County. The inseparable pair soon married and started a family. Mike was born in 1951 and Robert in 1954. When the boys were still young, plentiful work and clear mountain air lured the family for a short time to the Owens Valley, where Smiley’s brother ran a plumbing business. Soon after, Coss and Smiley made the move permanent—Bishop would be where they’d raise their family. Smiley started Bishop Plumbing in 1963 and they never looked back.

During the many decades Smiley ran Bishop Plumbing, he was a fixture in the Owens Valley. If you rode a short while with him in his work van, you’d lose count of the people he waved to. Chances are, nearly everyone had him in their house fixing a sink or commode at some point.

Beyond work, he developed deep friendships—most of them honed over the years through (many) nights at Bishop Elks Lodge #1603. He was a man of diverse hobbies, as well. He played pool, collected coins, owned boats. He even got his pilot’s license in his mid-40s. His skill at these various pastimes is debatable. But almost nobody will dispute the fact that Smiley Connolly was one of the best poker players in Owens Valley history, even if you include the pioneer days. He was still winning poker tournaments in his 90s. His ability to read people and keep a poker face made him an incredible joke teller, too. It was a rare conversation with Smiley that didn’t end with a smile.

When he retired, Smiley turned Bishop Plumbing over to his sons. He and Coss upgraded their fifth wheel and traveled all over the country together for thirty years. Their favorite spots were in the forests and rugged coasts of northern California and Oregon.

Far from resting in retirement, Smiley was elected to the Bishop City Council, where he served nearly twenty years. Twice during that stretch, Smiley served as Mayor of the City of Bishop, including during the Bishop Centennial Year of 2003. The dedication and service Smiley provided to Bishop and its citizens, first as a respected business owner and later as a city official, are truly remarkable.

But the one true love of Smiley’s life was Coss. From the time they were teenagers, and for nearly seventy years afterward, they were together through thick and thin. The love, devotion, and care they took with their relationship were a model for all those around them and will forever be the standard their family aspires to. From his humble beginnings during the Depression to becoming a respected family man, business owner, and city leader, Smiley’s example will live on in the memory of the community of Bishop and in the hearts and minds of all his family and friends that had the pleasure of knowing him.

Smiley is survived by son Mike Connolly and his wife, Debbe, of Bishop; grandson Ryan Connolly and his wife, Phan, of Elk Grove; grandson Chris Connolly and his wife, Kristin, of Lone Pine; granddaughter Rachel Connolly of Redding; granddaughter Addie Miears and her husband, Rich, of Bishop; grandson Mick Connolly and his wife, Kayla, of Sparks; sister-in-law Beverly Connolly of Laguna Beach; and former daughter-in-law Lori Graves (Boardman) of Redding. He was “Papa” to seventeen great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. There are many nieces, nephews, cousins, and other family and friends, too numerous to name here. Smiley was preceded in death by his beloved wife Coss in 2019; his youngest son, Robert in 2021; his parents; and all eight of his brothers and sisters: Patrick (“Pat), Robert (“Bud”), Margurite, Betty, Colleen, Barbara, Dolores (“Pee-Wee”), and Lydon (“Junior”).

Private burial at East Line Street Cemetery in Bishop. The family will announce a celebration of a long and well-lived life at a later date.

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