Noted local historian, educator and theologian Gerald J. Smith died Monday. He was 71.
The author of To Seek a Newer World: A History of Columbia County Georgia, the officially authorized history of Columbia County, Smith was fascinated with the community he had called home since 1977.
“The book was probably the most detailed thing he wrote about Columbia County, but really, he did so much,” said his son Gerald Judson Smith Jr. “He was always being asked to speak and did. He would speak to anyone.
“Columbia County was near and dear to him.”
In addition to being a writer and historian, Smith was an ordained Methodist minister and served as chairman of the Paine College Humanities Division from 1977 until 2001. His son said sharing his passion for history and literature was one of Smith’s greatest joys and that he placed a premium on education. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from LaGrange College, a master’s degree in divinity from Emory University and a doctorate in English literature from the University of Georgia. His son said he remembered his father working on his doctorate and his father’s enthusiasm motivated him to earn a master’s in history.
“My father had a love of history of any kind,” he said. “Local history, military history – anything.”
Marva Stewart, a professor of English at Paine College, met Smith when she started teaching at the college in 1979. She said it was his humanity and spirit that made him an effective, and beloved, educator.
“Those of us who worked under his supervision respected his scholarship, dedication, friendship, collegiality and loyalty to this institution and his peers,” she wrote in an e-mail. “He was a compassionate man whose spirit will remain with us forever.”
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas Poteet and Son chapel.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, 1190 Interstate Parkway, Augusta, GA 30909 or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.