Leader Blues

Saturday, January 23, 2010

TOP STORY >> Smith, former Cabot mayor, dies at 89

Leader staff writer

Norfleet Edward Smith, or Red as he was known to most, was 62 years old and retired from running his own business selling and delivering gas and diesel to farms and gas stations when several prominent Cabot businessmen asked him to run for mayor 28 years ago.

His daughter, Sharon Black, said she was surprised. He had served many years on the Cabot School Board, but Black said it never occurred to her that he was prepared for the job of mayor until he was elected. Then she saw him in action and knew the businessmen had been right.

Cabot Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler was court clerk back then and recalls the years under Smith’s leadership as good ones.

“We were in good financial shape when he was mayor,” Verkler said. “He was a conservative and he didn’t like to spend money unless he had to.”

A man of few words by all accounts, Verkler said Smith wasn’t one to dance around issues.

“He just told you what he thought and that was good,” she said.

“He was a good man. He was fair. He treated everyone the same,” she said.

Born Aug. 27, 1920, in the Sylvania Community, Smith was only known as Norfleet by the people who lived there. He was married for 62 years to Wilma Summers Smith, called the love of his life by his children. She died June 29, 2009, one day shy of 81. He died at home Tuesday from a lengthy illness, still deeply mourning her loss. He was 89.

Smith attended Beebe High School. His father had died when he was 12 and he had been forced to grow up faster than some.

“He never graduated high school, which he regretted,” Black said. “Nevertheless, he led a remarkable life.”

Smith joined the Coast Guard when World War II began and served with the Navy as a gunner’s mate second class, aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Mills. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean 18 times, escorting U.S. and allied merchant and troop ships carrying vital supplies for Great Britain.

After the war, during the boom years, Smith worked as DX distributor from the 1950s until the 1970s. He later ran Smith Oil Company until he retired — a total of 37 years in the oil business.

In the early years, he made several trips daily to North Little Rock to fill his tank truck, often accompanied by Cabot-area residents who needed a ride.

Black recalls that her father won the contract to sell gas to the air base in Jacksonville while it was under construction. The summer she was 12, he taught her to drive the tank truck and they would take back roads to Jacksonville to make deliveries.

“I felt like I owned the company,” she said.

Even though he was busy with work and spent a lot of time with family, Black said he also made time for crappie fishing and hunting. He was especially guarded with his favorite fishing hole somewhere around Des Arc. He wouldn’t tell anyone where it was and he had been known to stop reeling in a fish if he saw someone watching for fear they would see how deep he was fishing.

Smith served 10 years on the school board, holding the offices of treasurer, vice president and president.

He was elected to his first term as mayor of Cabot in 1982 and for a second term four years later. He resigned on Aug. 31, 1989, because of health concerns.

Smith was preceded in death by his parents, Noff and Mary Ginther Smith; his wife and two sisters, Bessie Lockard of Cabot and Vera Seaton of Sylvania.

Survivors include three children, Duane Smith, Sharon and her husband Jay Black, both of Cabot, and Jackie and her husband Pat Martin of Oklahoma, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

He was a member of the Cabot Masonic Lodge and the VFW. He was instrumental in getting the Veterans Memorial built at Veterans Park.

He served as a director on the board of the Central Arkansas Mental Health Services. He also served as the ex-officio director of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and was its man of the year in 1983.

The funeral was Saturday at the Cabot United Methodist Church conducted by Pastor Stephen Coburn with Stubby Stumbaugh presenting the eulogy. Arrangements were by Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home.