The year was 1908 and Theodore Roosevelt was finishing out his last seven months in office as the president of the United States. Just between the Sampson County and Duplin County line, Jim and Hattie Smith became the parents of Razzie Smith, who Monday celebrated his 108th birthday.
Smith has lived through 19 different presidents, and has voted in all elections since 1968, the first presidential election he was allowed to vote. That year, Nixon became president, following Lyndon B. Johnson, who became president upon the death of John F. Kennedy.
“They were good presidents,” Smith said. “I really liked Kennedy and Johnson.”
While the centenarian may not be able to make it to the polls this November due to his age, he was a part of the election that brought the first African-American into office. Just eight years ago, Smith and his daughter, Annie, went into their polling location and voted. And you can guess who he voted for — Barack Obama.
“He’d go back today if we took him,” Annie shared.
There’s only one secret to living such a long life — Smith said it’s “just up to the good Lord.”
“I’m waiting on him,” Smith said. “It’s the good Lord that has kept me here and it will be the good Lord that takes me home.”
A farmer all his life, Smith started helping his father in the fields when he was just a young boy. Not much happened in his early years. Smith said he spent his childhood going to school and playing, when he wasn’t in the field picking cotton. Smith was one of 10 children, and the only child that is still living today.
“I picked cotton,” Smith shared. “That’s what I did.”
When Smith was in the third grade, he had to stop going to school. During the first part of the 20th century, going to school wasn’t much of a priority or an option for an African-American man. Smith said his daddy rented farms and he had to work on them.
In 1930, March 3 to be exact, Smith married Annie Cooper Smith and the two later moved to Sampson County. Later that year, Smith and his wife had their first of 11 children. Eventually, they would become the parents of eight boys and three girls. Only six are still living today.
“He’s outlived several of his children,” Annie, who is the youngest child, explained.
Smith and his wife also raised a grandchild.
From that happy union that lasted more than 80 years, Smith and his wife have 27 grandchildren and more great, great-great and great-great-great grandchildren than can be counted. While Smith’s daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were spending his birthday with him yesterday, the three tried to count how many generations were in the family and eventually just said, “there’s a host of them.”
Smith’s wife died just six years ago, in 2010, at the age of 99. Throughout their marriage, Smith said his wife stayed home and cooked and took care of the children.
Hard of hearing, Smith’s granddaughter, Tara, who was visiting her grandfather from Maryland, knelt beside his chair, caressing his arm, speaking loudly into his ear so that he could hear the conversation being held in his living room. When Tara asked her grandfather if her grandmother was a good cook, Smith just smiled and said, “she did a lot of it.”
Even today, when Smith is having a good day and can get out, his daughter takes him to church at Union Star Church, where Smith once served as an usher and deacon for more than 60 years. When he was able, Smith was also the groundskeeper for the church.
“He’s still able to go to church and we take him sometimes,” Annie shared.
Being raised in the church, Smith said not going wasn’t an option.
Annie said her father still drove until he was 95 and at the age of 99, Smith walked his granddaughter down the aisle at her wedding.
Before he was able to buy his first car, Smith would ride his bicycle to work. Just across the street from his home was a saw mill. He said while he worked in the fields picking cotton and farming most of the time, occasionally he would work at the saw mill.
“I married my husband in 1977, and I remember Razzie riding that bike around town when I met him in 1974,” his daughter-in-law Mary said.
Every year, Annie takes her father to his primary physician for his annual physical. Each time they walk in the door, Annie said her father’s doctor is surprised he’s still able to get around like his does.
For the last 10 years, Smith has had problems with his kidneys and besides a little high blood pressure and the hearing issue, has no health problems.
“He would plant a garden and did that until he was in his 90s,” Annie said.
Smith has a nursing aide who helps him during the day and he loves getting visitors. While it isn’t known if he his the oldest living resident of Sampson County, Annie said his doctor says he is one of his oldest patients living.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.