03/07/14 — Members remember Mrs. Smith's service to board, students

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Members remember Mrs. Smith's service to board, students

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 7, 2014 1:46 PM

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The Wayne County Board of Education's Thursday night tribute to the late Thelma Smith included placing a single, long-stem red rose next to her name plate. Mrs. Smith, who died last Saturday following a period of declining health, was remembered for her 17 years on the board and 50 years as an educator who was devoted to the county's children.

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Thelma Smith

A single, long-stem red rose lay next to Thelma Smith's name plate at her seat at the Wayne County Board of Education Thursday night.

It was, Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said during the board's Thursday night meeting, a fitting tribute and a way for the board to show its love for Mrs. Smith, who died last Saturday.

Board member Dr. Dwight Cannon said he thought it appropriate that the rose occupy the desk where Mrs, Smith sat for 17 years as board member with 50 years as an educator.

Board members used the waning minutes of their meeting to share their memories of and to pay tribute to Mrs. Smith.

"It was kind of strange before we went into executive (closed) session," board Chairman John Grantham said. "I was sitting here waiting for everybody to come, and I finally realized that Mrs. Thelma wouldn't be coming with us tonight. We are all going to miss her."

Grantham then asked everyone to stand for a moment of silence.

Cannon wiped away tears and Taylor had to pause to collect himself, his voice choked with emotion as he continued.

"Mrs. Smith was like a mother to me because she would give me advice if I asked for it, or if I didn't ask for it," Taylor said. "She is somebody I will miss. She was always for the greater good, and it didn't matter whether it was in her district or not.

"She was a very special person. I loved her as a professional and as a friend. She was a true educator, a lifelong educator. She was just a great individual and citizen of Wayne County."

She will be remembered for all of her hard work for scholarships for students, and a lot of children would not have gone to college without her, he said.

"She has touched so many lives in so many avenues in so many ways that I promise you that her legacy will be for many, many years down the road for the good work that she has done in this county," Taylor said.

Taylor said that during her period of declining health that it would have been easy for Mrs. Smith to say she was just going to do what she had do. She did miss some meetings, but she continued to serve, he said.

"She gave it her all, and when somebody gives it their all, you can't ask for any more than that," he said. "My heart goes out to the family and really to this board because we have suffered a great loss in the last week. We will be hard-pressed to fill her shoes."

Board member Eddie Radford said he and Mrs. Smith had become good friends over the past few years.

"No. 1, she was a classy lady," he said. "Everything she did had class to it, regardless of what it was. She made sure it was done as it should be. She was opinionated. If you didn't want an opinion from her, don't ask her because you were certainly going to get it.

"She had a lot of humor. She would laugh and have a good time. I am going to miss her. The board is going to miss her, but most of all the children of Wayne County are going to miss her."

Cannon said Mrs. Smith had left a legacy with each board member.

"She schooled me on what it meant to be a board member," he said. "We had some one-on-one lessons that I will never forget."

Board member Rick Pridgen said he first met Mrs. Smith when he was a student at Goldsboro High School where she was always in the middle of the students.

"She was there for everything that we did," he said. "She was all about keeping the student engaged."

Pridgen said he had been excited to work with Mrs. Smith on the board.

"She was always willing to listen to her fellow board members," he said. "But she was always willing to tell you first whether we were doing this for the children or doing it for some other reason."

Pridgen said that when he speaks or votes at a board meeting that he will have Mrs. Smith at the back of his mind because she taught him a lot.

She was the glue that "kind of kept" the board going, he said. Mrs. Smith would maintain her cool when two board members might be at odds, he said.

"She kind of spanked our hands a little bit, and let us know when we did wrong, and what we ought to do that was right," Pridgen said. "I will tell you, I am a different person because of Thelma Smith crossing my path."

Grantham said he and Mrs. Smith did not agree on everything, but that they had a good relationship.

They would disagree, but then move on, something that people serving on an elected board have to do, he said.

"She had a good sense of humor," Grantham said. "She would say what she meant. She would say it to your face and not behind your back."