Electrician, sports writer, magistrate judge, historian and man of faith and family - Conyers and Milstead Village's own Renaissance man - Frank D. Smith, 97, passed away earlier this month leaving an indelible mark on his community.
Smith spent his formative years in Milstead, when it was a company town, working at Callaway Mills, as an electrician for 31 years. During some of this time, he would put in a full shift and then leave the mill to write for the paper then known as The Conyers News. In 1953, he became The Rockdale Citizen's first employee. His daughter, Toni Smith, remembers her father did much more than report and file stories. "Daddy would ink the press and repair it whenever it broke down."
Both Toni and her brother, Charles recall people knocking on their door at all hours of the night - Smith also served as a justice of the peace and magistrate judge.
Charles said his father liked to joke that, "he would marry people on Friday night and lock them up on Saturday." Toni added Smith never charged fees until the county required him to send them in. It was understood if anyone needed help with anything, you called "Mr. Frank."
Lifelong family friend, Joan Davidson, remembers being a 14-year-old student having difficulty writing a paper and Smith taking the time to help her with it. "Mr. Frank was a walking encyclopedia...he was a computer before there were computers." Davidson, along with her husband Mike, was able to return the favor 50 years later when they helped edit and publish his last book, "Keepers," a work of fiction chronicling generations of a pioneering farm family, on his 97th birthday.
Smith was a prolific writer, completing and self-publishing over 10 books. In his most notable work, "A Story of Milstead," he assembled a history of a cotton mill town including the tales and genealogies of his fellow "lintheads." Proceeds from his book sales always went back to his beloved community and Milstead Baptist Church where he served as a baseball coach, scout leader, deacon, and community pillar.
After Callaway Mills shut down in the early '60s, Charles said, "a lot of people moved off and (the Milstead neighborhood) went down...He spent years trying to revitalize it and get county grants to repave the streets...trying to get it back where it used to be." His efforts didn't go unnoticed in his lifetime. The Milstead ball field, where once a semi-pro team played, was re-named the Frank D. Smith Field.
Smith was also a huge supporter of the arts, particularly music, and was inducted into Georgia's Country Music Hall of Fame for supporting emerging artists. He arranged many concerts in Milstead, giving musicians a platform while bringing entertainment to his neighbors. In his book "That's The Way It Was," a riveting account of life in the '30s, he tells of the first radio in Conyers and how he and his brother using magnetic coil from an old Model-T Ford rigged a line connecting them to music and programming and wonder a virtual world away.
With the help of friend Beth Shaw, some of his best research and work, much out of print now, is available on http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gacmils/. Of Conyers' first pioneers, Smith said, "They learned by the hard way the great lessons in life of hard work, thrift, frugality, self-reliance, resourcefulness, independence and faith in God. Among their graces were hospitality, kindness, patience and neighborliness...they knew more about the essentials of life." According to countless friends and family, Smith was a modern day pioneer.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Mattie (Sue) Smith and son, Gary Eugene Smith. He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Kay S. and Earl Wood; son and daughter-in-law, Charles T. and Linda Smith; son, Joseph E. Smith; daughter and son-in-law, Toni S. and Donny Smith, all of Conyers; 11 grandchildren; 31 great-grandchildren; five great-great-grandchildren; several nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions may be made to Milstead Baptist Church.