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March 4, 2013

The Rev. Dr. W. Ches Smith III

TIFTON — The Rev. Dr. W. Ches Smith III, beloved pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Tifton, died March 2, 2013 at Tift Regional Medical Center. Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. today in the sanctuary of Tifton's First Baptist Church. His grandsons, Ches Smith V, T.J. Martin, Patrick Goff, Mitchell Goff, Scott Eldridge and Brooks Garland will serve as pallbearers.  Dr. John Milton "Tripp" Martin III and daughter, Dr. Karen Smith will officiate with burial to follow at Oakridge Cemetery.  Honorary pallbearers will be members of the Tifton Rotary Club and members of the Frank Raley Co-ed Sunday School Class of Tifton's First Baptist Church.

At an early age, Dr. Smith realized the value of a good education, and he achieved this for himself.  He graduated from the renowned Boys High School of Atlanta and then went on to Mercer University in Macon, where he remained for a short while before joining the United States Merchant Marines. His unit was later fused into the United States Army where he remained for four years of creditable service to our nation.  After leaving the armed forces, he returned to college and received his AB degree in 1957 from Emory University, and then he went on to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from which he earned three degrees: his B.D., his Th.M and his D.Min.  In 1973, Mercer recognized Dr. Smith's wisdom, foresight and vision for the university and the Baptist denomination by conferring upon him the honorary D.D. degree.

Because of his love of learning, Dr. Smith wanted others to have an opportunity to further their education.  For 25 years, on Friday evenings, he taught ministers at the Norman Bible Institute.  In addition, he served as a trustee of Tift College and Mercer University, and he had the distinction of making the motion that a theology school be created, which later became known as the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.

Dr. Smith served several different pastorates beginning with the Pine Lake Baptist Church in Atlanta.  From there he went to Guess Road Baptist Church, Durham, N.C.  He then moved to Decatur, serving the Glenwood Hills Baptist Church. In 1966 he became pastor of First Baptist Church in Tifton, where he served as pastor for 29 years. At his retirement in 1995, Dr. Smith was named Pastor Emeritus of the First Baptist Church.

For 17 years, Dr. Smith served as interim pastor of various Baptist churches in Chula, Cordele, Valdosta, Adel, Quitman, Moultrie, Fitzgerald and Baxley. He concluded his interims with the Zion Hope Baptist Church, which he was pastoring when he died. He maintained and continued relationships with all these congregations.  Yet during these interims, he retained his deep involvement with and support of the Tifton First Baptist Church, including active membership in the Frank Raley Co-ed Sunday School class.

Dr. Smith credited Dr. Louie D. Newton, who was his pastor at Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, for teaching him about our Baptist heritage and the importance of supporting the principles for which our forefathers fought. Smith took a leadership role as moderator of the Atlanta and Mell associations, was the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and served on many committees in the convention. He also chaired the Board of Directors of THE CHRISTIAN INDEX and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Dr. Smith was a part of the organization of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, formed for the purpose of education, fellowship, and global missions, served on the First National Council and as Georgia's first moderator of the Baptist Fellowship.

Dr. Smith and his beloved wife, Dot, made Tifton their home and contributed in many areas for the betterment and improvement of the community.  He served as president of the Tifton Rotary Club and is a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.  Because of his service and leadership to the Tifton community, the Tifton Chamber of Commerce elected to hang his portrait on the Tifton Wall of Fame.

Dr. Smith will live on in the lives of the many people whom he has touched.  He and Dot started their home in 1948 and worked side by side in rearing a family and in ministering to their churches.  A dear friend of his, Dr. Truett Gannon, said, "Christ has walked with him; Ches, you have indeed been a good and faithful servant of our Lord."

Dr. Smith is survived by his wife of 64 years, Dorothy Walters Smith; five children, William Ches "Skip" Smith IV and wife Judy, of Augusta, Dr. Carol Goff and husband Rodney of Macon, Dr. Karen Smith and husband Paul Harris of Wales, Lisa Daughtrey of Tifton, and Kathy Martin and husband Milton of Augusta; 13 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; one brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Kay Smith, of Highlands, N.C.; and two sisters-in-law, Ann Smith of Bremen and Virginia "Jinx" Eberhart of Atlanta.

Flowers will be accepted or memorial gifts may be made to the Ches Smith Scholarship Fund, McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University, 3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta, GA, 30341.

You may offer condolences to the family at the online guest registry at www.bowen-donaldson.com.  Arrangements for the Smith family are under the care and direction of Bowen-Donaldson Home for Funerals, www.bowen-donaldson.com.

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