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If the measure of a man is how he responds to things of utmost importance, the work of Emmit James Smith Jr. was done well. By God’s command, the sun set on his amazing, principled life February 14, 2023.
Escambia County, Florida was always home to the man known as Puddin’, born on September 28, 1944, into the loving unionof his parents, Emmit James Smith Sr. and Irma Lee Watson Smith. Though an only child, Puddin’ lived a life with an abundance of love from relatives and friends, instilling his respect and love for family. One day, he would have a big family tree of his own, with him at the root.
Puddin’ attended Booker T. Washington High School, graduating in the class of 1962. While there, he was a football player, making quite a name for himself at the positions offullback and linebacker. His athletic gift resulted in ascholarship offer to Fisk University in Nashville. As enticing the chance to attend college, he vowed, out of love, to forgo the opportunity, stay home and share in the care of his physically-challenged mother. In high school, he learned the craft of baking. He mastered the recipe of cinnamon rolls, which he baked to woo Mary Elizabeth Clemmons, known as Tiny. On January 29, 1966, Puddin’ and Tiny married. As a busy mother, Tiny found time to be a seamstress, often making suits for her stylish husband.
In his life as a provider, Puddin’ accepted a job with the Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) as a bus operator. Hiscontagious demeanor and attention to detail were perfect fusionfor that job. He transported passengers with care, enjoying conversations with many along the miles. Among his favorite times on the job was when his grandchildren were surprisedpassengers. By the time he retired in 2015, after a nearly 40-yearcareer, he had earned the dubious distinction of having driven ECAT buses over one million miles without a single accident.
Puddin’s life was more than work, as he was always passionate about football. In his 40s, he joined the Pensacola Wings, asemi-professional football team, as a safety, grasping not just a leisurely pursuit, but doing it well. The proof was in the Puddin’! Whether as fans or players, his joy for the game seeped into the veins of his family. Sons Emmitt, next Erik, and then Emory played the sport in high school. Grandson EJ is a college player, and great-grandson Daniel plays in high school. Puddin’ was proud for generations! Emmitt and Emory played professionally for the National Football League. Emmitt for the Dallas Cowboys, and Emory for the Green Bay Packers.
Another of Puddin’s favorite pastimes was golfing. The sport was not his gift, but Puddin’ clearly believed practice made perfect. He spent so much time on golf courses that Tiny would joke that he would be eulogized at one. He enjoyed collecting NASCAR model cars, playing a good game of Dominos, and also embraced the relaxing art form of pottery. Sometimes, the hours passed quickly while he worked peacefully in his potteryroom.
It has been said that grace is not given because we have done great works, but in order that we can do them. In full awareness of God’s grace and mercy, Puddin’ joined Greater Little Rock Baptist Church from his hospital bed. Consistent in increasing his faith and fervent to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he rarely missed online service or bible study.
Known as a quiet, empathetic man with great wisdom of life, stories of Puddin’ building fruitful relationships with family and friends will long grace his memory. He will be remembered as a good listener who did not judge. His advice was strong, and neither glossed over the truth nor pacified the listener. Those who sought his opinion knew they were asking for a “tell it like it is” conversation.
Puddin’s greatest job was that of a family patriarch. He was preceded in death by his wife, soulmate, and the love of his life, Tiny (2016), and by their son Emil (2008).
Sometimes the best things in the world are intangible, only felt with the heart. Such was the case with the love Puddin’ bestowed on his family. He often ended conversations with them tenderly saying, “I love you more.” The essence of his legacy continues in those he loved fiercely, his children Marsha and Victor Hill, Connie Hendrix, Emmitt III and Pat Smith, Erik Smith and Emory Smith. As the Smith family tree expanded, so did Puddin’s heart. He loved to share stories about his children’s children and his children’s grandchildren. Remembering Granddaddy (a.k.a. “G-Diddy”), the man with a vulnerable loving heart, are grandchildren Jarrell, Danielle, Marchelle, Briana, Jasmin, Rheagen, Victoria, Emmitt IV (“EJ”), Skylar,Cierra, and Elijah; and great-grandchildren Daniel, Serinity, Idris, Gabriel, and Nehemiah. Also left with family stories to tell are his brother-in-love Clifford Clemmons Jr., and sisters-in-love Earnestine Beck and Geraldine Brown, as well as very close cousins, and many other relatives. He also was surrounded by the love of so many friends, including Joye Blue, Annie Byrd-Pollard, Caroline Robinson, Elisa Robinson, Isabella Robinson,Tommy Woods, Niya Johnson, and Tonya Muhammad
How we move forward in the wake of Puddin’s life is a choice. Either we can have heavy hearts because he is gone, or we can choose to let our hearts rejoice because he lived and, in some way, made our lives, and this world, better.