Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TOP STORY >> Former alderman dies in car wreck

Leader editor-in-chief

Former Jacksonville Alder-man Marshall Smith of Vilonia, who had served on the city council for 32 years, longer than anyone else, was killed Monday morning when his vehicle veered off Hwy. 107 near Bayou Meto Elementary School.

He was 80. His wife, Edith, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. He was taking her to a doctor’s appointment when the accident occurred around 9:30 a.m.

They were both taken to Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock. She remains in intensive care after surgery.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has ordered flags be flown at half-staff. “We lost a good man,” Fletcher said.

They served on the city council together for three decades.

According to a member of Smith’s gospel group, the Gospel Tones, he was alive after the accident and providing aid to his wife when rescue crews arrived. It was then that he collapsed and his heart stopped.

Paramedics were able to get a regular heartbeat back for a short time before his heartstopped again and he could not be revived again.

His wife spent most of Monday afternoon in surgery to stop internal bleeding and repair damage to the colon and intestines. She was in intensive care Monday night.

Smith remained active, serving as recorder-treasurer in Vilonia. Former School Superintendent Bobby Lester, who was Smith’s first cousin, said he was signing checks at city hall Monday morning.

He said he was a talented musician and gospel singer who had often appeared on Little Rock television.

Jacksonville’s Director of Administration Jim Durham said Smith was the “ultimate Jacksonville patriot. He was always 100 percent for Jacksonville. He tried hard not to make anyone mad when he made a decision.”

Durham fondly recalled Marshall as a peacemaker on the council. “Back in 80s, the mayor and I were both on the council and would get into some heated arguments. He would just laugh and tell us to get along.”

“I know one of the things he was most proud of,” said Durham, “was getting the highway department to close Coffelt Crossing. It was a death trap and one person after another was killed trying to use it to cut across Hwy. 67/167.”

Alderman Kenny Elliott, who served more than a dozen years on the council with Marshall, said, “He was one fine gentleman. I enjoyed working and spending time with him over the years. Everyone liked him wherever he went.”

City Clerk Susan Davitt said, “We were all sad and shocked when we got the news. He was a great person. There was nobody better.”

At nearly 32 years, Marshall Smith was the longest-serving alderman in Jacksonville.

He was on the council from 1981 to 2012. He had moved to Jacksonville in 1976, when he became a loan officer at Citizens Bank.

The Smiths moved from Jacksonville to Vilonia to be closer to their daughter. April Burris, and their grandchildren. He ended up getting involved with city government there.

He is also survived by his son, Mike, who is a manager at the Jacksonville Walmart.

“As you know, I’m in my 32nd year with the council, and that makes me the longest-serving alderman in Jacksonville’s history, but I’m stopping at 32,” Smith told the city council in 2012. “I will not seek re-election.”

Smith missed only about 11 meetings. “I know at times I went five, six, seven years without missing a meeting. You’re elected by the people to serve and that’s what I did,” he recalled when he announced his retirement

“I’ve had the privilege of working with numerous prestigious men and women,” he added.

Smith first took office Jan. 1, 1981, and in those earlier years had opposition when he ran again, but he always won big.

“If you do the will of the people and try to do the right thing, the races take care of themselves,” he said. For Smith, it worked, as he had no opposition over the last 20 years.

Smith, who represented Ward 1, was proud to have served during the city’s troubled years at Vertac and he worked hard, along with others, to bring the city through those problems. “I lot of times I prayed about my decisions,” he said.

He was the first chairman of the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission, which has raised millions of dollars for local projects through a sales tax on prepared foods and motels. He served on the commission from 2003 until 2009.

Smith was also proud to have brought recycling to Jacksonville. “We went into the schools and got the kids involved. You get the kids, and then you get the parents. Now, many cities come to us as a model,” he said.

He and his wife were married for 53 years. Smith continued to perform with his gospel quartet after he retired.

Arrangements are pending at Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home in North Little Rock.

(Leader staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this report.)