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‘Mr. Eugene’ — ‘one of God’s great gifts’ to SEBTS

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — Eugene Smith Sr., affectionately known as “Mr. Eugene” around Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Aug. 11 at the age of 92. He had been a beloved facilities employee for nearly 40 years.

“Mr. Eugene, as we called him, was one of God’s great gifts to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,” SEBTS President Danny Akin said.

“He personified what it means to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never did he greet me without a wonderful smile, a gracious handshake and a word of encouragement.”

Smith worked for the facilities team full-time from 1980-1993, just before his 67th birthday, maintaining Stealey and Appleby halls as a custodian for a decade. He subsequently worked part-time primarily handling recycling at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.

“Mr. Eugene taught me much,” said Travis Williams, Southeastern’s director of facilities management who worked with Smith for nearly 20 years. “Though a man of few words, he was a man of great influence.”

Smith was “one of the hardest-working and most humble men I have had the opportunity to share life with,” Williams said. “I have never heard him complain or utter a negative word. I miss him dearly but have no doubt about his eternity with Jesus Christ because his faith in Jesus beamed from every fiber of his being. I consider myself privileged to call Mr. Eugene my friend and brother in Christ.”

Doug Nalley, the seminary’s director of housing, was among those who interacted with Smith in the shop through the years. “I can say that he always had a joy about him and his love for the Lord was evident,” Nalley said. “He would often say to me, ‘How you doin’ Rev.? Do you have a word?’ He always appreciated hearing and learning something about his Lord.”

Ricky Evans, a longtime facilities coworker, recounted Smith’s camaraderie with the facilities crew, recalling that he typically said that “he loved working with all the young guys in facilities because they kept him feeling young.”

Akin said Smith “always referred to me as ‘Mr. President’ or ‘My President.’ Honestly, I never thought of our relationship that way. Mr. Eugene was my brother and my friend. It was God’s kindness to bring him into my life.”

Akin met with Smith in a 2015 interview to discuss the intersection of faith and work. The article and video interview can be accessed here.

Walter Strickland, Southeastern’s associate vice president for Kingdom diversity initiatives, and Benjamin Quinn, assistant professor of theology and history of ideas, chose Smith for the dedication of their 2016 book “Every Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians.” A tribute by Quinn can be accessed here.

Smith was born on Sept. 26, 1926, in Rolesville, N.C., and was a member at New Bethel Baptist Church as a child, later joining Olive Branch Baptist Church in Wake Forest with his wife Joan. He and his wife were married for 57 years before she passed away in 2007.

Smith is survived by Eugene Jr. and Isabelle Smith, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

An open casket viewing will be held Saturday, Aug. 17. at 2 p.m. at Olive Branch Baptist Church followed by a memorial service at 3 p.m.

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  • Lauren Pratt