- [S104] Cocke County, Tennessee, and its People, Cocke County Heritage Book Committee, (Walsworth Publishing, 1992), 243.
- [S24] The Newport Plain Talk, (http://www.newportplaintalk.com), 31 Aug 2008.
Just Plain Talk - Like spring she keeps returning
Only a few memories of the August heat wave remained at the end of the month drenched with fire-quenching rain and morning mists over our hometown as we welcome in Labor Day and September.
There were only five days left before Christmas 1974 when the tragic accident happened on the Cosby Highway I-40 overpass bridge. Arthur and Nancy Petrey, who were running the Plain Talk then, were on the scene. It was dusk or dark, about 6 p.m., when I accidentally happened upon the crash of the county sheriff's dept. cruiser and a car. It was a horrific scene. I had been covering news about a year and a half and knew both the deputies, and also the driver of the other vehicle, Carroll Acton, who survived. Also killed were the cruiser driver, Lloyd "Dud" Clevenger, and a passenger in the Acton car, Hal Shropshire. During the years later, I got to know his family and relatives. Now, 34 years later, I got to meet and talk to Deputy Billy W. Smith's daughter. Let me tell you how this happened. Rose Lovell, a sister to the late deputy, called to say that April Lynn (Smith) Wilson and her family would be in town. She didn't have to say anymore other than to meet everyone at Mom's House off Baysinger Road. That's where the Smith family hails and still maintains roots. Yet, April left the county when she was five with her mother, now Esther Bartholomew of Millville, New Jersey. Folks were sitting on benches in front of Mom's House. It consists of the original small frame home of the late Jim and Hazel (Holt) Smith-Mom and Dad to the Smith clan. A larger addition built in recent years allows for the community to gather for music and singing. The walls are covered with family photos, and dozens of color photos of singers and musicians who have appeared during the years. I suspect a lot of great food has been enjoyed, as we did that Tuesday night. I particularly liked the lasagna and walnut cake.
The only thing much I know of Jim and Hazel is that she is a sister to preacher Tillman Holt, known by many of you. And, the family is highly musically talented. For more than 10 years, April did not return to Cocke County. Maybe there remained painful memories for Mom, whose sister had moved here and got Esther to move here in the 1960s. That sister, Audrey Huff, died recently. When April became 17 she got her driver's license and an urgent call to return to her birthplace. Her grandmother, Hazel, was dying. That was 1987. Jim and Hazel had lived off Baysinger since 1946. Their children are oldest son Tommy (James T.), Rose Marie Lovell, Shelby Rhea Elkins, Billy Smith, who was 26, when killed, and Mack. I know him because of his role as director of the Fourth Judicial District Drug Task Force. Tommy is retired; Rose still works a lot. I got acquainted with her when she was with the sheriff's dept. She has two children, now grown, Debbie and Ricky. Rose lives off Needmore Rd. not far from the homeplace and the family's church and the small cemetery where Billy and parents are buried. Shelby owns the homeplace. About every two years April returns like late summer's fields of wildflowers. She and husband, Fred, of Florida, pushed themselves to get college educations. He is a powerhouse engineer in Millville and she works as a sales development manager with Kimble-Chase Sciences. They have been married 19 years. Their son, Anthony, 18, begins studies to become a doctor of physical therapy and Jeremy, 15, is still in school. He has the giant Smith genes.
One thing that became clear as I chatted with April on a bench outside Mom's Place, was her genuine love of the community. She holds it dear after 34 years and still has warm memories of Dad. These include horseback riding, helping him work on his Pontiac GTO, and eat peanut butter sandwiches. Home in Baysinger Hollow has been her anchor during a life in which she had to move about a lot. Just down the road from where we were seated, is the family church. It's the old New Bethel Church and now New Life Baptist Church of which Tommy Smith is pastor. Outside the cemetery is the resting place of the Smiths and Mosie Rhea. There is still a remnant of the pathway to where Billy, Esther, and April lived the years the family was all together. When April is in Millville, she only has to walk into a room to be close to many of these memories: A photo of her Dad in uniform, his Gibson guitar, a high school class ring, Cocke County Sheriff's Dept. badge, funeral flags, medals of honor for a fallen law officer. April said she still has the 1974 sheriff's dept. calendar when Tom O'Dell was sheriff on the wall with her Dad's photo and his comrades.
In plain talk, tragedy cannot erase or replace the good memories that family members share to unite them over space and time.