Frederick O’Neal Smith was born in Mount Hope, Alabama, in 1889. He grew up working on the farm and attended school through the eighth grade.
He left school and worked for several years. At the age of 20 he met the love of his life, Minnie Louise Byars. They married in 1910 and spent 68 years together. They had five children, but their first-born daughter died in infancy from diphtheria. For a time he hauled freight from Moulton to Decatur. Later, he opened a drugstore.
He was a member of First United Methodist Church of Decatur where he taught Sunday School, served as Sunday School superintendent, served on the board of trustees and was involved in many aspects of church life for all his life.
Fred eventually went into business with a partner. When the stock market crashed in 1929, his partner jumped out a window and left him with all the debt and an unstable business. He survived this, and finally opened his own car dealership with his sons, Smith Motors of Decatur (not the current Smith Motors).
He became an active member of the Democratic Party of Alabama and was a friend and off-the-books adviser to Sens. James Allen and John Sparkman. It was through these contacts that he helped facilitate the opening of the Decatur Trade School, which later became John C. Calhoun Community College. A cafetorium on campus was later named in his honor.
Fred’s car dealership was growing when a fire destroyed the building and inventory. He rebuilt the business and soon it was flourishing again. Once more fire gutted his business. By this time he had seven grandchildren and the business supported all these families.
Smith Motors rebuilt and continued until Fred retired in 1972. Although there was no more dealership, the sons continued to operate an automobile repair business at that location. Throughout the years, Fred was active in the growth of the city of Decatur through memberships in civic clubs. Fred died in 1979 and his funeral drew dignitaries from across the area.
Fred was a former freight hauler, a druggist, a postmaster, a teacher and successful businessman. He was remembered as an inspiring teacher in spite of his limited education.
He inspired his daughter, Marjorie Smith Farley, to become a teacher. She also coached girls basketball. I'm her daughter, Ann Henry, and I also became an educator for 29 years. I taught English and coached girls basketball. Another granddaughter also became an educator.
Two of my three children, who are great-grandchildren of Fred, are also teachers. Charles Henry is completing a master's degree in choral conducting, after which he will return to conducting high school choirs in the Birmingham area. My daughter Beth Polhemus teaches math in Decatur City Schools.