Curtis Smith, retired United Methodist Minister, died November 30 at the age of 100 in East Providence, RI, surrounded by his family. Curtis Warren Smith was born in Highland Park, Michigan on October 28, 1917, the elder of two children born to Wirt Jordan Smith, a realtor, and Ella Pauline Curtis Smith, a teacher. His parents divorced when Curtis was 12, and his mother single-handedly raised Curtis and sister Barbara. Curtis graduated from Highland Park High School in 1934 at age 16, having skipped ahead a year. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, graduating in 1938. Curtis’ sophomore year was spent in Guangzhou, China studying at Lingnan University with other young American men, some of whom became lifelong friends.
After graduating from Wesleyan, Curtis worked at the YMCA in Hartford, Connecticut for three years, working with young men. He took them on a notable trip to Oberlin College for a conference where he sang God Bless America for the first time, which had recently been made famous by Kate Smith.
In 1941 Curtis entered Chicago Theological Seminary, after hearing an especially boring sermon at his local United Methodist Church and deciding he could do better. At seminary he met Rosemary Hirst (of Detroit) and they married in 1948, after he had served as a minister in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, for four years. After their marriage they moved from Pittsburg to the Canaan, Vermont parsonage. Their first child, Margaret Clara, was born in 1950, and shortly thereafter the Smiths moved to Henniker, New Hampshire, where Susanna Pauline was born in 1953. In 1956, Curtis took a sabbatical from the church and the family moved to Manistee, Michigan for a year, where he worked as a union night watchman for a salt refinery.
In 1957, the young family went to Lancaster, New Hampshire, where Curtis became pastor of Christ United Methodist Church for seven years. Philip Roger was born there in 1958. In 1964, Curtis, wanting to become involved in the civil rights movement, moved the family to the Peninsula Conference on the eastern shore of Maryland. His first posting was in East New Market, Maryland, and the following one in Townsend, Delaware. Curtis made inroads in establishing a relationship with the African Methodist Episcopal church in Townsend, and also worked on developing the youth programs at Townsend United Methodist Church. In 1971, with one child left at home, Curtis and Rosemary moved to Frankford, Delaware, joining the Frankford charge. After Philip’s graduation from high school, Curtis and Rosemary moved to the Allen charge in Allen, Maryland. After six years there, they moved to the Choptank, Maryland charge. Curtis retired in 1985, and Rosemary and he moved back to Lancaster, New Hampshire where they rejoined Christ United Methodist Church. Curtis remained active, filling in for other pastors occasionally and officiating at weddings and funerals, until his complete retirement at the age of 89. After Rosemary’s death in 2005, Curtis lived alone in the house in Lancaster for several years until moving into an assisted living facility in Providence, Rhode Island, near his son Philip. His last years were spent at Tockwotton, a nursing facility in East Providence.
Curtis had a prodigious memory and a love of classical music, opera, baseball (first the Detroit Tigers, then the Red Sox), hiking, reading, writing and receiving letters. He was faithful in keeping in touch with old friends and good at making new ones. He was always on the side of those who were in need – the ill, those affected by racism or poverty or war. He was a lifelong pacifist. He enjoyed working with youth always.
Curtis is predeceased by his wife Rosemary and his sister Barbara Suter. He is survived by daughters Margaret Smith (Victor Martino) of Bainbridge Island, Washington and Susanna Smith (Julie Orr) of Seattle, son Philip Smith (Rochelle Sokoll) of Providence, granddaughter Heron Greenesmith (Daniel Parr) of Boston, grandson Emerson Greenesmith of New York, and one great-granddaughter.
A service for Curtis will be held at 2pm on Sunday, December 3rd at
Haven United Methodist Church, 200 Taunton Ave., East Providence, RI.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) or the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).