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John Redd Smith dies at 89
John Redd Smith, a local resident remembered for his knowledge of area history, as well as his friendly demeanor, died Tuesday. He was 89. (Bulletin file photo)
Thursday, January 23, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Probably no one knew more about local history than John Redd Smith Jr., according to his friends and family.
However, it was his friendliness that made him popular, they said.
“It didn’t matter who you were. He would be your friend,” said Smith’s son, Tripp Smith.
The elder Smith died Tuesday after being hospitalized for nine days, his son said. He was 89.
“He was a true gentleman,” said Debbie Hall, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society. “He never met a stranger.”
And, she said, “he was like a walking encyclopedia of local history.”
Smith was a lifetime member of the historical society. Whenever he was at the society’s office at the old courthouse uptown and visitors were there, he would talk to them about their ties to the community, regardless of whether they lived locally or elsewhere, Hall remembered.
He could easily identify people in historical photos and remember buildings that no longer exist and what occupied them, she said.
Virginia King, another historical society member who has been involved in uptown redevelopment efforts, said Smith “knew what was in the different buildings and stores” in the central business district over the years.
“It was fun to talk with him,” King said, adding that Smith’s stories always were interesting.
One she remembered involved Wyatt Hairston, one of the area’s first vehicle owners. Recalling the story, she said Hairston once was stopped by police and given a speeding ticket. Hairston paid double the ticket amount, she said, “so he wouldn’t be stopped on his way out of town.”
Ironically, Hairston eventually died in a car accident, King said, based on what she learned from Smith.
Smith grew up on Church Street in a home that was demolished to build the Martinsville Municipal Building. He came from a prominent local family.
His great-great-great-grandfather was Maj. John Redd, who came to Henry County during the Revolutionary War. His father, John Redd Smith, was the local commonwealth’s attorney from 1900 to 1912. Some local streets are named after his family members, according to a Martinsville Bulletin article from 2007, and a Collinsville elementary school is named after his dad.
After he was discharged from the Army in 1946, Smith attended Bluefield College and the University of Virginia before returning to Martinsville. He sold automobiles before joining the former Sale Knitting — later Tultex Corp. — from which he retired in 1984 after more than 35 years at the company. He first worked in sales and later headed the customer service department.
In his adolescent years, when Martinsville was smaller than it is now, Smith knew the names of everyone in town, Tripp Smith said to his understanding.
All his life, “he loved people. He loved being with people,” his son said, adding that “visiting was a hobby of his.”
Smith still enjoyed going to see people after he gave up driving when he moved to King’s Grant, Tripp Smith said.
There, Smith would visit other residents, employees and the assisted living and health care centers, his son said.
“Daddy would go see everybody down there just about every day,” even if it was just for a few minutes, “just to say, ‘Hey!’” said Tripp Smith.
“He always had a joke” to tell or a light comment that would brighten people’s days, his son added.
Smith made friends up until his last days. At the hospital, Tripp Smith said, one of his nurses was so charmed by him that she said, “I’m gonna take him home with me!”
“He was a fine, fine person,” Hall said. She called Smith’s death “a tremendous loss to the community and our ties to the past.”
Smith was married to the late Sylvia Smith. He had, in addition to Tripp Smith, a daughter, Franz-Hahr Phillips, and two stepchildren.
He was a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church in Martinsville and a member of Elks Lodge No. 1752 for 58 years.