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Carl R. Smith„ B.D.
Rev. Carl Raymond Smith, Jr., 91, passed away on June 4, 2015 at Cathedral Village, a senior residence in Philadelphia, Pa., where he lived with his wife Mary Helen Lawson since 2004. He died peacefully after an extended illness, in the presence of his family.
Carl was a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which he served in both pastoral and executive positions. From 1976 until his 1987 retirement, he was the Synod Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails in Indianapolis, IN. He previously served as Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley in Rochester, NY (1968-1976); pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Queens, NY (1960-1968); visiting pastor with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya; associate pastor of Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, Denver, CO (1954-1960), and pastor of the Hilltop Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ church in Columbus, OH (1950-1954).
Carl’s professional and religious education included degrees from Ohio State University, Columbus, OH (M.A. 1954), Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT (B.D. 1950), and Johnson Bible College, in Kimberlin Heights, TN (A.D., 1946). He also studied under theologian Karl Barth at the University of Basel, Switzerland (1957) and with community organizer Saul Alinsky.
Carl was born on November 22, 1923, in Grants Pass, OR, and was raised in Kalispell, Montana, near Glacier National Park. His father Carl R. Smith Sr., was a World War I-era veteran (U.S. Army Signal Corps), and worked as a
grocer, railwayman on the Great Northern Railroad, and, during the Great Depression, as a W.P.A. construction worker. His mother Silva Duncan Smith ran a boarding house in Kalispell, and later worked in an apple processing plant in Wenatchee, WA. His brother Irvin D. Smith served in the U.S. Navy during World War II on the U.S.S. New Jersey. He later received a law degree, and served for many years as the District Attorney of Harney County, OR.
Carl’s ministry was shaped by his lifelong passion for civil rights and social justice, his belief in religious tolerance and ecumenism, and compassion for the poor, powerless, and dispossessed. Throughout his life, he challenged the church, its lay leaders, and its clergy (including himself) to comply with Christ’s simple command to love one another.
Under his leadership in the 1960s, the First Presbyterian Church in Queens, NY, a racially diverse congregation, became actively involved in the civil rights movement. Carl organized a busload of church members to participate in the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where they heard Rev. Martin Luther King’s epic “I Have a Dream” Speech. In 1964, Carl travelled with other ministers, priests, and rabbis to “Freedom Summer” in Hattiesburg, MS, to witness and support the registration of African American voters.
As Executive Presbyter in Rochester, Carl led a 31,000 member, 76 church governing body in upstate New York. As the Synod Executive in Indianapolis, he led the church judicatory overseeing 270,000 member-strong churches of Indiana and Illinois. In both positions, he brought together Presbyterians of diverse racial, theological, and socioeconomic backgrounds in urban, suburban, and rural congregations.
His retirement was marked by a proclamation from the mayor of Indianapolis, declaring August 31, 1987 to be “Reverend Carl R. Smith Day,” and noting that “Reverend Smith has dedicated his life to the community, the church and most importantly the uplifting, preaching, and teaching of God’s word.” Recognizing his commitment to interfaith understanding, Carl’s colleagues also funded the “Carl R. Smith Fund” at Chicago’s McCormick Seminary, to establish a lectureship to further Jewish-Christian dialogue. After his retirement, Carl led a Lilly Endowment-funded project to support for churches to experiment with new ministries.
On June 10, 1950, Carl married Jane Avery Smith of Moorestown, NJ, a classmate at Yale Divinity School. Carl and Jane had three children: Jennifer, Suzanne, and William. The family enjoyed annual summer vacations on Echo Lake, Readfield, ME. Jane, an educator and writer, died on December 12, 1979, after battling cancer for many years.
On August 24, 1981, Carl married Mary Helen Lawson, a social worker and consultant, who was also an alumna of Yale Divinity School. In their retirement, Carl and Mary Helen moved to Maine, spending summers at Echo Lake and winters at their home in Augusta, ME. Carl soon became active in local politics and community organizations, serving as president of the Echo Lake Association, and running (unsuccessfully) for the Augusta City Council. In 2004, the couple moved to Cathedral Village in Philadelphia, where Carl cared for Mary Helen, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Until his final illness, Carl remained intellectually active and physically fit, and enthusiastically participated in community and family events. He swam every morning in the CV pool. He taught courses at “Cathedral College” with topics ranging from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and this past fall, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” to the Protestant Reformation.
Carl is survived by his children Jennifer Q. Smith, Suzanne A. Smith, and William C. Smith, and his brother Irvin D. Smith. He is also survived by his wife Mary Helen and her children Kristor J. Lawson, Elizabeth Lawson, David B. Lawson, Matthew P. Lawson, and Rev. Ruth A. Kirk. Carl and Mary Helen collectively have twenty grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.