James Murray Smith ,
affectionately known to many “Smitty,” was born on May 26, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan. The youngest, and only male, of the three children born to Alpheus and Verna Smith, James spent his youth in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The family moved eventually moved out of the city to the suburb of Shaker Heights, where James attended and graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1963.
Smitty continued his education at Central
State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. However, his studies
were interrupted when he, being a car lover, decided not to return
to Central in order to work to purchase his first of many cars - a Corvette convertible Stingray. That decision would change his life forever as he was soon drafted into the United States Army and sent to Vietnam. Some of his experiences in the “Nam” (as he referred to it), are chronicled in the book, The Boys of 67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam by Andrew Wiest. After being wounded in combat, Smitty was awarded a Purple Heart. He later returned to his beloved Central State University, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business.
Company as a Territory Manager in Toledo, Ohio. Shell transferred him to Chicago, IL after a few years. Now living in an unfamiliar city, Smitty called upon a Central State friend, who invited him to the home of a beautiful young woman, Theresa Jean Byrd. Smitty was smitten with Jean immediately, and after 2 years of dating, the two were married on October 12, 1973.
James began his work career with Shell Oil
and marriage made in heaven. She was his 'Baby,' and he was hers. They travelled the world together and shared countless memories and adventures. James & Theresa loved the Lord. They were faithful members of Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park, IL for many years, and could be seen on the front row nearly every Sunday.
Smitty & Theresa Jean enjoyed 47 years of wedded bliss. It was a match
James became an entrepreneur later in life as the owner-operator of
the Maywood Shell Car Wash and Convenience Store. Not one to be still for too long, he eventually sold that business and took his strong work ethic back to corporate American with several companies including McDonald’s Corporation, Southland Corporation and Southwest Airlines.
Smitty discovered his natural athleticism and love for sports early in life,
and that passion never waned. Though he played several sports over the years, he excelled in swimming, baseball and tennis. He would also say that he excelled in golf, which he played avidly until his final days.
James enjoyed an illustrious career, but more important than that, is who
he was as a person. He loved people, and people loved him. He was magnetic, attracting not just friends, but strangers alike. James was always “the sought out one” for sound counsel and wisdom. He was non-judgmental and a master at making others comfortable. He was often the peacemaker, like a bridge over
troubled waters. James demonstrated this trait early in life as evidenced by the infamous tale told by his parents. One day when James was a child, his two sisters were fighting over a toothbrush. James offered for one of them to use his, just to settle the dispute and bring peace. No one knew at the time, but this was certainly a precursor of who he would be as an adult. The strength of his character and his
friendships was further evidenced by how several of his lifelong friends from across the U.S. gathered at his bedside for his last Central State University Homecoming. He never missed a single Central State homecoming. This last one, though, became is homegoing.
Smitty is sorely missed by his family and large community of friends. He
leaves to celebrate his legacy, his loving wife, Theresa Jean; sisters, Alvernys Watson, Jewell Jenkins, and Julia Payne; nieces, Karen Watson and Sloan Waters; nephews, George Jenkins, Travis Payne; godchildren, Cristen Hall and Cortney Hall-Melick (Dane); and a host of other relatives and friends.