After “My Father, The Ghost” was penned, Jack Smith thought he was finished writing books, but love for his two beautiful granddaughters and a deep-seated desire that they know as much about where he came from compelled Smith to once again take readers down memory lane, or Henry Hill, whatever the case might be.
Smith, son of former Lawrence County Sheriff, Franklin Smith was raised in Mount Hope until he was in his teens. Those formative years, the important ones where boys form their foundations, where they run through the woods hunting, fishing or pretending to be indians or cowboys, or playing ball with a lump of coal or a carefully guarded baseball made of string discarded by their mothers. They spent hours and hours playing in the Sibley barn, later to be turned into a ‘sissyfied wedding venue’ (according to Smith) and trips to the hub of social activity in Mount Hope, Mr. Jim So’s store, where a body could get just about anything they wanted or needed, from overalls to penny candy.
The son of a carpenter turned sheriff, Jack was born on April Fools’ Day 1934. (For those counting that’s 82 plus years ago).
He graduated from Lawrence County High School in 1952, then earned a B.A. degree in English-Journalism from Auburn, which was known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1956.
He later earned an M.A. degree in Journalism from the University of Alabama in 1975.
Smith retired from Auburn University Cooperative Extension Service in 1992. After 30 years in the University’s Extension Information office, including Coordinator of Mass Media, where for his last five years he served in administration as Assistant to the Director for Marketing, Smith was also a Consultant in Public Relations and Promotion for the Alabama 4-H Foundation board of directors for two years.
Adjunct professor in the Auburn University Journalism Department for the following 12 years, Smith was always a favorite with students according to the “Rate My Professor” website, he was known as the “momma ‘n ‘em” professor for his knack for pushing students to write well enough to take home and show momma ‘n ‘em. (Many did). He retired again after the Fall semester in 2007.
But it was through his employment as a reporter by The Montgomery Advertiser immediately after graduating from Auburn, and later his work as a reporter/editor for The Decatur Daily for four years, that he cut his teeth for writing and telling the stories of others. His career took off in 1956 as a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, where his first story centered on a relatively unknown young pastor named Martin Luther King. Smith then moved to The Decatur Daily as reporter/editor to reunite with a managing editor for whom he had worked in high school.
He had always loved reading and writing. It seemed to come naturally to him.
He recalls that when he was a lad of maybe nine years old, Jackie (as his family called him) would wait impatiently by the side of the dirt road in front of his log house in rural Lawrence County, searching for the sight of a dust trail that signaled the daily arrival of Mr. Woods, the mail carrier, in his black ’39 Ford.
The eagerly awaited piece of mail was the day-old Birmingham Age-Herald, which the youngster would spend most of the day reading stories and headlines about a world which he knew little about. He sat amazed at how a thing called a newspaper was created, marveled at how reporters told their stories of triumph and tragedy from far away lands.
“One day,” he thought, “I’m going to put words together like that so people can read what I have written.”
“From those days of my youth the 1940s, I just never lost my love for writing, and for the beauty and power of words,” said Smith. “My early elementary grade teachers at Mt. Hope School, including the beautiful Miss Woodruff, with whom I was madly in love, taught me to read words that had been put together in something called a sentence, and how they would create meaning. And then one day, I realized those words were painting pictures in my mind. I thought, what a wonderful, miraculous thing this was,” he exclaimed.
“So, Miss Woodruff and other mentors taught me as a youngster that words were both powerful and beautiful and that if you put them together just right people would be moved by them, would actually want to read what you had written.”
“Alas, Miss Woodruff never knew of my feelings for her, but I love her still for the precious gift she gave me those many years ago, a gift that I have happily embraced for a lifetime,” he said humbly.
Smith was coordinator of mass media for Auburn University’s largest outreach office, the Alabama Extension Service. During his 30-year career with the Extension Service, he developed and conducted more than 500 writing and communication seminars for AU Extension staff and personnel of other organizations. He and his media unit won national awards for excellence. He retired in 1992.
Two years later he began teaching in the Auburn University journalism department, where he became a student favorite for his unorthodox but effective teaching methods. He retired again from that adjunct position in 2007 and has spent most of his time since then researching and writing “My Father, The Ghost.”
Smith, who resides in Auburn, has one son, Michael, a banker in Atlanta, and two granddaughters, Maggie and Claire, who begged him to write down these stories so that they would have them to pass along someday.
His first book, “My Father, The Ghost”, was a successful story about his father’s stint as Sheriff. “It is a beautifully written book. The humor is real and the family love is real. It is about as inside a story as you can get because it was written by the sheriff’s son,” praised Gillis Morgan, The Auburn Village and Professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University.
Dr. Jerry Elijah Brown, then the Dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism, retired, described the first book as, a masterful writer and journalist, “The Ghost” is filled with suspense.
Smith’s recent book, “Moments in Time, An Autobiography, Sort of,” is just as lovable and recognizable as the first. He recounts his adventures with people who still live in Mount Hope, those who were related to him, or those with whom he spent the days of his youth with. People like L.O. Roberson, Jerry Sibley and others who still tell tales of Smith and their antics in cotton fields and along creek banks.
According to Nancy Pinion, her husband, James, is apt to burst forth in spontaneous laughter from his recliner across the room as he reads Jack’s recollections of growing up in Mount Hope.
The book is made of vignettes that will have you wiping tears of laughter from your eyes as you turn the pages. It is a warm, affectionate and often diplomatic look at growing up right here in what most of us refer to as God’s Country.
Lawrence County author, Joan Young Lang’s book, “I Would Walk A Thousand Miles” says this about Smith’s latest book, “I enjoyed Jack’s book because I could relate to so much of it.” My brothers and sisters and I grew up about six miles away on a farm much like the one he and his sister, Patsy, grew up on. I loved reading about all of his friends in Mount Hope. My sister, Jane, and I grew up much the same way as Jack and Patsy, we knew all those good-looking Sibley boys and I loved the part about my friend, Jody Sibley, lol, I remember when his dad was our sheriff, and actually visited his sister, Patsy, once when she lived in the jail.
According to Jack’s first cousin, Lanier Sibley, Jack has a deep and abiding love for Mount Hope. “When we all get together we love to reminisce about those good old days. I love hearing his tales about living in the jail cells when his dad was sheriff. Jack’s sister, Patsy, used to sunbathe on top of the old jail when they lived there. This is a fun book for anyone raised around the south.”
“Before going to school at Auburn, Jack was a huge Alabama fan, but L.O. Roberson somehow convinced Jack to move to Auburn with him, Jack loved it so much he’s lived most of his life down there,” laughed Lanier. “And he’s still there, at the age of 86!”
L.O. Roberson, who is featured multiple times in the book, says that in his judgment it is all truthful, both about Mount Hope and about himself. His wife, Carol Sue, says that she enjoyed reading it, “It brought back a lot of childhood memories,” she laughed. “I read it in about three days, it was so good I couldn’t put it down,” she laughed.
There are hilarious antedotes about many of the people you know and love around Mount Hope today, including Lanier Sibley. Jack just has a unique way of telling these tales, buy the book and see for yourself!