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The year was 1943 and men all over the U.S. were being drafted to fight in WWII, including Marion O. “Okie” Smith Sr.
Mr. Smith didn’t want to fight, though, and after looking over his record, then-U.S. Attorney General Tom C. Clark spoke with Mr. Smith to find out why he’d signed on as a conscientious objector to the war.
Mr. Smith said he simply didn’t want to kill another man.
The U.S. draft law during WWII made exceptions for conscientious objectors, allowing them to stay behind for work deemed important to the nation. Mr. Smith’s clean record allowed him to stay home where he was taken under the wing of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, a local dairy farmer.
Mr. Smith was 21, unmarried and had previously sworn he’d never work on a farm due to the backbreaking work – and he didn’t like the big eyes of the cows looking at him.
But working on that farm kept him from being drafted and a bond between Elder Michaux and Mr. Smith grew. Mr. Smith promised Elder Michaux he would never leave the land, and he kept his promise.
Mr. Smith, who provided milk to James City County for 72 years, stayed on that same land, raising 12 children, 115 grandchildren – including great- and great-great-grandchildren –and dozens of cows.
Mr. Smith died at his home after a long illness on Oct. 14, 2015. He was 93.
It was because of Elder Michaux that Mr. Smith stayed so long at the farm, an 1,800-acre piece of land, though the family uses only a portion of that now, according to Mr. Smith’s daughter, Marcia Kirby.
Elder Michaux told Mr. Smith “this land is for you and your children and your children’s children.” Elder Michaux said that one day, money would be plentiful but food would not, and Mr. Smith would need to keep the land to provide for those around him.
Mrs. Kirby said her father was the only dairy farmer still operating in the county. Other farms have been turned into golf courses and condominiums, but Mr. Smith refused to leave his land, choosing instead to continue providing fresh milk for his community.
At the time of Elder Michaux’s revelation, Mr. Smith didn’t even have a girlfriend, Mrs. Kirby said, but that all changed when he saw Rita Robinson singing in a church choir. He brought his bride to the farm in 1945 and soon the couple had eight boys and four girls. All of the children helped with the farm growing up and still help take care of the land and animals today.
Mrs. Kirby said over the years, the farm has raised dozens of cows, milking as many as 60 at one time, along with pigs, chickens, sheep and horses. There have been many hardships and disasters on the farm, including multiple fires that have destroyed homes and barns, sometimes leaving mysteries as to their origin.
One year, every barn on the land burned to the ground, and Mr. Smith’s children thought that was the end of the farm, but Mr. Smith said, “We’ll just press on.”
No matter the trial, Mrs. Kirby said her father would never leave the land.
“He said, ‘I’m going to stay here until I die,’” Mrs. Kirby said. “At 87, he was still going to the farm early in the morning, milking cows.”
Mr. Smith gave his life to that land, his daughter said.
“He never took a vacation, he was never sick, not until he was 87. He just worked night and day and raised his children in righteousness in the word of God,” Mrs. Kirby said.
It was Mr. Smith’s faith that kept him going, according to his daughter. As a young girl, Mrs. Kirby said the children took turns going to The Church of God in Newport News since they couldn’t all fit in one car. The family now attends The Church of God in Williamsburg where Mr. Smith’s son, Howard Sr., is the pastor.
The farm now has about 35 cows after losing some during the past few winters, Mrs. Kirby said. The farm provides milk to Marva Maid, and Mr. Smith’s family plans to continue their father’s legacy, living on the land, hopefully doubling their number of cows, and providing milk to James City County for years to come.
Mr. Smith was born Aug. 29, 1922, in Pocomoke City, Maryland and graduated from high school in Salisbury, Maryland.
He is survived by seven sons, Elder Peter Sr. (Ernestine), Elder Howard Sr. (Towana), Deacon Paul Sr. (Iris), Elder Joel Sr. (Alice), Elder Mark Sr. (Franceen), Marnie (M.O. Jr.) and Elder John Sr. (Robin); four daughters, Marcia Kirby (Garnett), Pauline Cooke (Michael), Rita Eloise Woodson and Robyn S. Smith (Francis); 42 grandchildren; 72 great-grandchildren; one great-great-grandchild; half-sister, Mary; and many cousins, nephews, nieces and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Upshur Smith and Lillian Waters Smith Peters; siblings, Basil, Stanley and Kenneth Smith; loving wife of 48 years, Rita Sara R. Smith; and eldest son, Michael M. Smith Sr.
Mr. Smith will lie in repose from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, at The Church of God at Williamsburg, 209 Longhill Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, at 2205 Treasure Island Road, Williamsburg.
The family would like to thank Mr. Smith’s caretakers of Williamsburg, Keesha Hill Jones, director, Celes Clayton and LaToya London and Riverside Hospice nurses Megan and Laura. Another special thank-you goes to his daughter, Rita Eloise Woodson, who was by his side everyday and night.
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Amanda Thames is the obituary writer for WYDaily. Reach her at 757-565-1079 ex. 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.