Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gee Whiz Pal Fellows

Fred Smith passed this week and I wonder if Ararat, Virginia, will ever be the same or if the people in Ararat really know who they lost this week. I am sure there are many stories shared this week about Fred Smith. I will tell two that show that his community was never far from his mind.

When I was a teenager there was a basketball goal at the Ararat Ruritan Club and it was the only paved surface to shoot hoops on. We played many games on the dirt behind Zeb Scales’ house, but for many years we played at the Ararat Ruritan Club. The goal came down due some others drinking, breaking glass and cursing loudly. I went to Fred and told him that it was not us doing it and that the basketball goal gave us a place to have some fun. The goal was back up within a week. That was the kind of man Fred Smith was. He listened and he got things done.

Twenty years ago when I started raising money to save the J. E. B. Stuart’s Birthplace, many people in Ararat scoffed at the idea of trying to preserve the site, but not Fred Smith. He put his money where his mouth was giving as much as any one individual donor except maybe for Lucy Pannill Sale or her brother William Letcher Pannill, but in Ararat no one gave more to save the site than Fred Smith. He did not stop there. I went around to most of the Ruritan Clubs in Patrick County getting $1,000 from each except for Patrick Springs that never invited me and never gave a dime to preserve the site. Ararat was the last to give, which should not surprise anyone (Luke 4:24) and there were members who did not want to give to the effort. I am told that Fred Smith got up at a meeting and lectured them about community service and supporting what I was trying to do. Fred never told me he did that, but many others did and I never forgot it.

Fred was the son of Davis Reid Smith and brother of Davis Reid Smith, Jr. along with the sister of Jean Smith Cooke, all great characters in their own right. A lifelong Democrat, who took up golf in his later years. I would say after he retired, but Fred Smith never retired. Fred was a great putter of the golf ball and he could talk trash as good as anyone. I know this. I don’t think I heard Fred ever swear, but he would say “Gee Whiz Pal Fellows” and for many of us that is what when we thought of Fred Smith. I know I smiled everytime I said it.

I have never known anyone in Ararat, Virginia, where I grew up, who did more for his community or thought more about his community than Fred Smith. I do not think any of us realize who we have lost or what that loss will mean for the future of the community.