Tuesday, January 29, 2013

James Thomas Smith, Sr.

James Thomas Smith, Sr., 93, passed away at Winston Medical Center in Louisville, Mississippi, on January 29, 2012. Visitation will be Thursday, January 31 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Porter Funeral Home and on Friday from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.
at First Baptist Church, Louisville. The service will be at 11:00 a.m. at First Baptist Church, followed by interment at Masonic Cemetery in Newton, Mississippi, at 2:00p.m. Mr. Smith was born on November 4, 1919, in Millport, Alabama, where he grew up farming with his father, Starling Manley, and his mother, Ellie, along with his four brothers and one sister. Upon graduation from Millport High School in 1938, he had his bags packed to attend Auburn University, when his pastor came by to say that Mr. Smith had been offered a full scholarship to Clarke Memorial College in Newton, Mississippi, as well as a part-time job as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Newton. He left the farm in Alabama for Mississippi with a $20 bill in his pocket. In Newton, he used $5 of that money to ask a friend to approach a blue-eyed girl he met at church. That girl was Erin James, who would later become his first love and his wife and the mother of his two children. During the two years at Clarke College, Mr. Smith flipped burgers, worked at Jitney Jungle and collected laundry (so that his would be free), while keeping up with his studies and church work. After two years, he transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi, where he was elected President of the Junior Class. He was asked to run for President of the Senior Class the next year; but he declined, seeking instead a job that paid. He ran and won the post of business manager of the school annual, while directing the Southern Mississippi Chorus and working as Minister of Music at the 38th Avenue Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. In 1942 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education and was voted “Most Outstanding Boy.” Upon graduation in 1943, Mr. Smith married “one of the James girls of Newton” and shortly thereafter set sail for a tour of duty with the U. S. Navy in the Southwest Pacific. During this time he entertained the troops as part of a national radio singing group and was encouraged to pursue a professional singing career; but he was anxious to return home and pursue his passion for education. After the war ended, he took a job with the Newton School System, where he was both principal and junior high school football coach. He kept up his church work as well and developed a full choir program. With the GI Bill, Mr. Smith went to the University of Alabama where he earned his Masters of Education and developed a passion for the Crimson Tide. He particularly enjoyed going to Alabama football games and the S. E. C. basketball tournaments with his brother Charlie. In 1947 he and Erin moved to Alamo, Tennessee, where he served as high school principal and basketball, track and football coach, as well as Minister of Music at First Baptist Church, Alamo. In 1952 as a result of his father-in-law’s death, he returned to Newton and once again entered the school system as principal. In 1956 Mr. Smith accepted a job with the Louisville Public School System, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. During his career he served at various time as Principal of Louisville High School, Superintendent of Winston County Public Schools, and Director of Federal Programs. While serving as principal one of his fondest experiences was directing the high school students in the production of My Fair Lady, in which his son James played the lead role of Henry Higgins. He was also Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of Louisville from 1955 until 1961. During his long career in public education, Mr. Smith received many honors, including Winston County’s Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year in 1976, Rotarian of the Year in 1990, President of the Rotary Club, Director of Chamber of Commerce, Chairman for State Heart Fund, and Lifetime Deacon at First Baptist Church. Upon retirement from the Winston County Public School System, Mr. Smith was asked to host a radio program at WLSM, the local station. His “Man About Town” showcased local personalities and was enjoyed by all of his fans. Mr. Smith loved his God, his church, his family --and his students, community and friends. He never said an unkind word, was patient, and caring. His students loved and respected him and wanted to please him because he was like another loving parent or perhaps one that they did not have. He probably never fully realized the influence which he had upon the thousands of children whose lives he touched. “You made a man of me” is a quote he heard many times over the years. And his voice, that voice. There were very few weddings in Winston County which did not end with his singing “The Lord’s Prayer” or funerals which did not reverberate with his rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” In addition to many beautiful civic programs of Broadway show songs that Mr. Smith sang with Marjorie and Mary, he sang “Here She Comes, Queen of LHS (to the tune of Bert Park’s “Here She Comes, Miss America”) to countless Homecoming Queens, including his daughter, Cindy. In 1991, Mr. Smith lost his blue-eyed bride to cancer. But, thankfully, beautiful, sweet Shirley entered his life and made him happy again. Thank you for loving him and for loving his family. Mr. Smith is preceded in death by his parents; his brothers, Herman, Bob and Leburn and sister Euline Stowe , as well as his first wife, Erin and son James Smith, Jr. He is also preceded in death by step-son, Mark Hamill. Survivors include wife Shirley Hamill Smith; daughter Cindy Smith Reed (Bill), step-son Britt Hamill and step-granddaughter Lynn Messer; granddaughters Paige Smith Yarbrough (Steven) and Erin Reed; grandsons, Doug Smith (Allison Grubbs)and Jess Reed; brother; Charlie E. Smith; great grand-children, Mary Cannon Yarbrough, Ellie Yarbrough, James Yarbrough, Harrison Smith, Grace Smith, Adam Hamill, Ashley Hamill, Taylor Hamill, Tyler, Tucker and Logan Messer. He is also survived by many loving nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews. Loving thanks to Annie, Hazel, Janet and Allen, who enhanced the quality of his life in so many ways and to the staff at Winston Medical Center. You took wonderful care of him and he called each of you “friend.” Thank you. In lieu of flowers , memorials may be made to First Baptist Church of Louisville (P. O . Box 547, Louisville, MS 39339) to benefit the Good News Club, which supports the Boys and Girls Club of Louisville; or to the American Heart Association or American Cancer Association.