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Rev. William E. Smith Dies - The Pilot Newspaper: News

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  • May 3, 2015

Rev. William E. Smith Dies

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Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014 1:47 pm | Updated: 1:55 pm, Fri May 9, 2014.

A prominent local minister whose life included a legacy of service to others and a long friendship with golfing legend Jack Nicklaus has passed away.

The Rev. Dr. William E. Smith was remembered by friends and associates as a kind, compassionate man who was dedicated to the betterment of all through his pastoral service and involvement in local civic groups.

Smith died Thursday afternoon after a Wednesday morning fall at his home. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lou, and a daughter, Janet Smith. A son, Craig, preceded him in death.

Smith had been active in the Sandhills community for more than 25 years since he and his wife retired here in 1987. He served on a number of local boards and leadership positions and wrote often for The Pilot.

Smith served as a board member of the Pauley Lecture Series of Sandhills Community College. Board chairwoman Sandra Wright said Smith would be remembered as a "much respected friend."

"He was an active and beloved member of the Pauley Lecture series board, and I know he cared very deeply about the board," Wright said.

Wright read a letter that Smith had written to her last March, one which he asked that she read aloud to board members.

"'God willing and the creek don't rise, we'll see y'all and greet each of you as a much respected friend,' he wrote.

"That's how I will remember him."

Smith was a longstanding member and chaplain of the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills.

Club President Michael Cotten said Smith was a "humble" man who was a joy to know.

"He was a very compassionate person, and he was someone you could trust to give you his heartfelt advice," Cotten said. "He was always trying to bring people together to find a solution."

Cotten said the Kiwanis Club members will "be there" for Smith's family.

"We understand this transition has to happen," Cotten said. "But we know that he is in a better place, and we are better for having known him. We at the Kiwanis Club extend our sympathies to the family, and offer our support during this difficult time."

Smith was a close friend of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, who Smith had known since 1965 after becoming senior pastor of Nicklaus' place of worship, the North Broadway United Methodist Church, in Columbus, Ohio. His connection with Nicklaus resulted in the latter’s September 2012 appearance at Sandhills as part of the Pauley Lecture Series.

"I arrived as pastor a couple of years after Jack and his wife, Barbara, were married, so I didn't get to perform the marriage ceremony, but I did baptize their kids," Smith said in a June 2012 interview with the Pilot. "We became good friends and have remained so ever since."

The two stayed in close touch over the years, with Smith continuing to give the invocation at Nicklaus' memorial tournament in Ohio each year.

Smith recalled with humor how the arrangements were made for Nicklaus to come to the Sandhills to speak. As a member of the Pauley Lecture Series board, Smith said all members were asked to name someone with whom they were acquainted who might be available as a speaker.

"When I told them I knew Jack Nicklaus, they almost fell out of their chairs," Smith said in the 2012 interview. "They said 'The' Jack Nicklaus? You know him?

"I called him at home, and he said he would absolutely love to come down and speak."

A Delaware native, Smith enrolled in Western Maryland College before attending Boston University's School of Theology on a scholarship. He remained at the school as interim chaplain of the university while pursuing a doctorate in theology.

In an interview with Pilot writer-in-residence Jim Dodson, Smith recalled a fateful encounter with a "well-dressed young black man" while he was registering for classes.

"He told me he came from Atlanta, Ga., and his name was Martin Luther King," Smith recalled. "I thought, oh, right — and I'm John Wesley!"

But the two classmates hit it off almost immediately, Smith said, and the two "shared and survived" many of the famous theology school's most rigorous courses in each other's company.

"Martin was getting his degree in the philosophy of religion, and there was never anyone who prepared better than he did for those very challenging classes," Smith recalls. "Whenever a question was asked, his was the first hand up. That's when he became exposed to the writings of Gandhi and Emerson, the transcendentalists, the existentialists, and all the rest. He was an absolutely brilliant seminary student, on fire with learning."

Upon graduation, Bill Smith accepted a post at a Methodist church in Salem, Mass., then to a United Methodist Church in College Park, Md., where he tripled the size of its congregation. He also served as an adjunct professor at American University and vice president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, and was elected to the prestigious General Council and placed in charge of superintending parishes in his region.

"I felt a little like a fish out of water," he told Dodson, "because I really longed to be back in the active parish life with people."

That decision led to becoming senior minister in Columbus, Ohio.

A service is planned at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 12.

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