Robert Smith served family, community and country

Friday, May 18, 2012 | 6:20 p.m. CDT; updated 7:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 19, 2012

Robert Smith lived for serving others, but his big heart wasn't always outwardly visible.

His daughter, Sandra Thornhill, described him as stern.


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"You'd meet him and be awed by him, and a little intimidated, too," she said.

Robert Smith of Columbia died Friday, May 18, 2012. He was 85.

Mr. Smith was born June 10, 1926, in Boone County to George Lee and Nannie Roberts Smith. The youngest of nine children, Mr. Smith was the only one of his four brothers and four sisters to be born in a hospital, Thornhill said.

In the 1950s, Mr. Smith could often be found racing stock cars on dirt tracks around Moberly, Fulton and Columbia. But soon, it became too expensive to both race and have a family.

"He had to choose one or the other, and he chose family," Thornhill said.

"He never said 'I love you' very much, the words, but we always knew we were loved," she said. "We feel we're better off having had him in our lives."

Thornhill continued that although he grew up in poverty and did not attend school past eighth grade, Mr. Smith always made certain his children had funds for higher education.

Mr. Smith gave to his family, and he gave to his country and community as well.

As a military police officer in the Army, Mr. Smith was an "influence for wayward soldiers," Thornhill said. "He was firm, but not too rough. He would do his job but still give guidance (to the soldiers)."

Before retiring in 1982 as a lieutenant, Mr. Smith worked for the Columbia Fire Department for 30 years. His daughter said one of his favorite parts of that job was the annual toy drive. The department would collect used toys, and the firemen would repair them and give them to less fortunate children for Christmas.

Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Mary Lou Smith, of Columbia; a son, Robert E. Smith Jr. and daughter-in-law, Shannon, of Columbia; a daughter, Sandra Thornhill and son-in-law, Jerry, of Barrington, Ill.; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Smith's four brothers and four sisters died earlier.

Visitation will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Parker Funeral Service,22 N. Tenth St. Services will be conducted by Pastor Mark Butrum at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Parker Funeral Service. Burial will be in Memorial Park Cemetery.

Memorial contributions can be made to Rocky Fork Fellowship, 555 N. Route B, Hallsville, MO 65255.

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