By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
The Rev. Bill Smith, a former missions director of the Lee County Baptist Association and a beloved Southern Baptist pastor, died Thursday after being pulled from the ocean while on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Smith, 74, of Tupelo, was swimming with his granddaughter when lifeguards noticed him struggling in the water, said Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes. By the time they reached him, he was face down and had no pulse.
Emergency medical personnel administered CPR to Smith while he was taken to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, where he later died.
News of Smith’s death weighed heavily on the minister’s friends and colleagues.
The Rev. Marc Howard, director of missions for the Lee County Baptist Association, said Smith will be remembered as a man who cared deeply for those on the margins of society.
Smith preceded Howard as the association’s director. During Smith’s tenure, from 1982 to 2002, he established a food bank and started an apartment ministry.
“His legacy will be one of serving in humility, with a heart for the poor,” said Howard. Smith served as pastor of Auburn Baptist Church and First Baptist Church Nettleton, among others.
Smith’s pastoral concern reached outside his own faith tradition. In the early ’70s he became one of the founding members of the Greater Tupelo Ministerial Alliance, a group that brought together pastors from 10 churches representing four denominations.
The Rev. David Eldridge, Smith’s pastor at Calvary Baptist Church and a current member of the alliance, described Smith as a trailblazer, one who built relationships across racial and denominational lines and who remained faithful to the gospel while being brave enough to break new ground.
“He had a shepherd’s heart, and many of the things he stood for and accomplished are things I aspire to in my own ministry,” said Eldridge.
Smith was a longtime member of the Tupelo Luncheon Civitan Club, and for more than 30 years he immersed himself in their service.
He served as the group’s president in 1973-74, and served several times as chaplain. Fellow member Charlie Mullinnix remembered Smith participating wholeheartedly in projects like ushering at the BancorpSouth Arena and delivering flags to businesses on holidays and other special occasions.
In July 2008, Smith’s heart stopped beating and he blacked out at the North Mississippi Wellness Center before being revived with a defibrillator. Friends, like fellow Civitan Joe Connell, knew that Smith wasn’t in the best of health, but they never saw it dampen his spirit.
“He didn’t complain,” said Connell, minister at Sherman Church of Christ. “I’ve always admired that in a person. He was a mild-manned, easygoing, loving man.”
Smith’s funeral arrangements are incomplete.