Thelma Smith passes
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 2, 2014 1:50 AM
Wayne County Board of Education member and veteran educator Thelma Faison Smith died Saturday morning at Kitty Askins Hospice Center.
She was 78.
As news of her passing filtered out into the community, she was remembered as someone who worked passionately and tirelessly for education.
"Tracy," a nickname by which her friends called her, was the widow of Raymond Smith Sr. She has one son, Raymond Smith Jr.; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A graduate of Dillard High School and North Carolina A&T State University, she received a vocational education certification from East Carolina University and her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Campbell University.
She taught business and office education, first at Tyrrell High School in Columbia, and then at Dillard and Goldsboro high schools, and adult education at Wayne Community College. She retired from Wayne County Public Schools after 33 years, later returning to Goldsboro High School as a guidance counselor.
In 1996, she was elected to the Board of Education, serving as its chairman in 2008. She was currently serving out her most recent term, re-elected in 2012.
Mrs. Smith was also a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., or AKA, holding such offices as president and coordinator of the debutante ball.
Another of her passions was the Dillard-Goldsboro Alumni and Friends, where she served as chairman of the National Scholarship Committee for "at least 25 years," sorority sister and longtime friend Dorothy Hardy said.
"While she was chairperson, over a half-million dollars was raised for scholarships," Mrs. Hardy said.
Mrs. Hardy, AKA vice president when Mrs. Smith was president, also belonged to the Dillard-Goldsboro alumni organization.
"She called me her legs because I was younger than her and I could get a lot of stuff done to help her out," she said. "She was very passionate about anything that she was in charge of. She was just an outstanding person, educator, civic leader and alumni for both Dillard and A&T."
Dr. Dwight Cannon, District 2 representative on the school board, is also Mrs. Smith's pastor at St. James AME Zion Church.
"I think there's going to be a big void in Wayne County and on the Wayne County Board of Education. A giant among us has fallen," he said. "She has indeed made an impact, and I think that impact is going to be felt on every level from students, teachers, board members and the community at large."
Board Chairman John P. Grantham was already on the school board when Mrs. Smith was first elected. They were entering their 18th year serving, he said.
"Miss Thelma and I, a lot of times we were not in agreement on some of the issues, but we always had a mutual respect for each other," he said. "Even when she was physically weak, she was mentally tough.
"I'm glad that she was able to see us get the new schools approved. It meant a lot to her. She was such a big help in getting that started."
Even as her health began to fail, Grantham said Mrs. Smith "really put her heart into her work."
"She wasn't just hanging on and not having input. Even when she wasn't at some of the meetings, she was abreast of what was going on and giving her input," he said. "We will all miss her. She's definitely given her service to the county."
Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor, said, "Mrs. Smith was a dedicated student-centered board member who gave unselfishly of her time, expertise, experience and energy during her retirement years to promote excellence, academic achievement and good citizenship for all students.
"She was a pillar in the community, being a life-long educator, staying involved in several organizations with the focal point being students and children first. She leaves a legacy of integrity, excellence and tireless efforts to make our schools, community, county, state and nation a better place to live, learn and become productive citizens."
Taylor said Mrs. Smith was highly respected by all who knew her.
"Her lasting positive impact will be felt for many years to come. She was a leader and served as an example for others to follow. She will be sorely missed by all those associated with her, knowing her mission, focus and work in life," he said. "I'm pleased that she was able to see and know that the facilities plan that she worked so hard on finally gained traction and came to fruition recently with approval by the county commissioners to complete planned renovations and new school construction. This was important to Mrs. Smith and was a major goal she worked hard to accomplish."
Pete Gurley, former at-large member of the school board, said she was also a close friend and a "class act."
"She was definitely an asset to our Board of Education for the 12 years that I worked with her, and I have noticed that she has been ever since," he said. "She understood how to get things done.
"She was just a sincere person. She had the students in mind at all times. There's no question at all about that."
Gurley said she was a "beautiful person" to work with and that he will cherish the memories of time spent with her.
"It's a great loss to Wayne County. She's been a trooper for a long time," he said. "You always knew where you stood, and she was always willing to stand up for whatever that was."
Also touched by the loss, and a firsthand witness to Mrs. Smith's dedication to Wayne County students, was fellow longtime board member, Shirley Sims.
The two worked for years as a team with one central purpose -- to represent the interests and to brighten the futures of all county students, Ms. Sims said.
"It's a sad day," she said. "It's just hard for me to find the words to express how I felt when I heard it."
The two had much in common, she said. Although unrelated, both their maiden names were Faison. They both married Marines.
"We both graduated from high school in 1952. We both graduated from college in 1956," she said. "I just think it was a meeting of the minds as a result of a calling from above."
As close as sisters, Ms. Sims, who now lives in Garner, recalled how, for more than 16 years, they had diligently worked for the cause of children in Wayne County Schools.
"I'm not saying we never had a difference of opinion," she said. "But at no time did we have a confrontation with each other. She was a lady of distinction and integrity."
She said their goal as board members was to keep the children in Wayne County schools first and secondly, to be the voice for those employees in the school system who felt like they had none.
"I feel like we did some real good things for Wayne County Schools," she said.
"I'm just praying that there will be someone that will get in that seat that will have some of the same qualities that she had so that the board can grow together and not apart."