Smith wants to act like Jesus, ‘be nice to people’
William C. “Bill” Smith wants to serve others in every way he can: helping financially with his insurance business, physically with selfless acts of assistance and spiritually with his Christian testimony.
“I just enjoy being nice to people,” Smith, 76, said. “What would Jesus do? He’d be nice to people.”
Smith enjoys helping people so much, he said, he has no plans to retire although he could have a decade ago.
While most businessmen give out wallet-sized business cards, Smith gives his “WS brand” index card, his own personal cowboy code of honor, listing seven “Rules To Live By.”
The rules are: “Do the right thing”; “Do more than is expected”; “If it’s wrong, make it right”; “Make time for people”; “Improve someone’s life”; “Make a difference”; “Do it now.”
The reverse side asks the reader to sign and check either “( ) I have believed in Jesus Christ and have eternal life” or “( ) I have not believed in Jesus Christ and am lost forever.”
Under a signature space, the card reads, “Give this card to your minister so that he will not have to lie about you at your funeral.”
“It’s an easy way to begin a conversation about Jesus Christ,” Smith said with a ready smile. “I want to help people think about their eternal destiny.”
The bed of his pickup truck is full of jacks, jumper cables, gas cans and tools to assist stranded motorists. Just a few weeks ago, he pushed a woman’s dead car out of traffic.
“I’ll stop and do whatever it takes to help,” Smith said. “I do it because God tells us to. Matthew 5:16 says, ‘Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your father which is in Heaven.’”
Smith is a well-known local businessman, a Charter Life Underwriter, with Lincoln National Life since 1965. His financial philosophy, he said, is simple. “Everything belongs to God — we just manage it for him.”
When he’s not advising his many clients, he’s riding horses, working cattle with friends, or cooking for 4-H clubs or small faith groups. He recently served 20 gallons of chili to more than 100 people attending “Ranch Day With Jesus” at a rural ranch near Greensburg.
Cooking provides opportunities to get to know people better, Smith said. “I think one of the ways God has blessed me is that I can put people together and then get out of the way.”
He’s popular at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for his “Angola road-kill” chili. The chili actually contains beef, Smith said with a grin, not road-kills scraped from the Tunica Trace highway by prison guards driving in to work.
Many of the men he feeds there work the prison’s cattle and horse herds and are members of Cowboys for Christ, a group he helped start 15 years ago.
Smith has also cooked for the prison’s annual AWANA Lifeline Returning Hearts event, a faith-based rehabilitation program where hundreds of offenders are reunited with their children for one day.
“That (program) is an example of how important a father is to his children,” Smith said. “Most of those men didn’t have a relationship with their father.”
He also cooked for a Chuck Colson and Charlie Daniels Band evangelistic service at Angola several years ago.
“Bill Smith is a great man and a good friend to Angola,” Warden Burl Cain said. “He cooks the best chili I ever had.”
Smith has served as president of the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a group he joined in the early 1950s while playing football at LSU; as president of the Capital Area Agri-Business Council and as a member of the Board of Trustees for Louisiana 4-H Foundation. He is past president of the Baton Rouge 4-H Centennial Commission and a longtime member of Cowboys for Christ.
He teaches a Sunday School class at Parkview Baptist Church, where he’s attended for 28 years, hosts a monthly Bible study at Ollie Steele Burden Manor Nursing Center and is involved in several men’s prayer groups.
Son of working man
Smith was born in Texarkana, Texas, the oldest son of a construction worker who worked wherever work could be found.
As a teenager, Smith said, his family spent one below-zero winter in Montana where his father operated heavy equipment for the railroad.
“My dad was a very honorable man; he just didn’t have much of an education,” Smith said. “He lived Christian principles; he just didn’t go to church.”
His father taught him, Smith said, that “it doesn’t matter how smart you are — if you aren’t smart enough to have manners, you don’t have anything. Manners make a man.”
His father also taught him a strong work ethic. “By the time I was 13 years old, I could operate heavy equipment, drive a truck, do just about anything.”
The family settled in Ruston where Smith attended church with his mother and sisters.
“I got saved at a revival service in 1951,” Smith said.
Football scholarship to LSU
Smith played football well enough, as a kicker and both offensive and defensive end, to earn a full scholarship to LSU after graduating from high school in 1954.
In January 1955, the young coach Paul Dietzel came to LSU and Smith, then a sophomore, started in the first game against Kentucky.
“I kicked his career off,” Smith said with a laugh.
They are still good friends and pray together often.
“The referee blew his whistle and all 70,000 people are all holding their breath and my little mother hollered, ‘Kick the ball, fool,’ ” Smith said with a laugh. “So, I kicked it off.”
LSU won that game 19-7, but the next game was a shut-out loss to Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. After A&M’s first score, LSU received the kickoff, “and we ran three plays and lost 40 yards,” Smith said.
He punted out of his own end zone.
Under the headline, “Texas Aggies Trample Tigers, 28-0,” the Sunday Morning Advocate, Sept. 25, 1955, described what happened.
“Early in the second quarter LSU’s Billy Smith took a high pass from center and booted an 81-yard punt down to the Aggies one yard line and seemingly had the Texans at bay, but Bear Bryant’s determined charges drove 99 yards downfield in seven plays for their second touchdown.”
“John David Crow (Aggie halfback and 1957 Heisman Trophy winner) was standing at the 50 yard line with his hands on his hips looking like he’d seen a flying saucer,” Smith said. “That ball went 99 yards but I only got credit for 81. It rolled out on the one yard line.”
Unfortunately, the LSU Sports Information Department could not find a record of the punt. The LSU Media Guide lists the earliest punt in 1966 by Mitch Worley, 66 yards versus Miami, and only two 80-plus yard punts: 82 yards by Derek Helton versus Arkansas in 2010 and 86 yards by Donnie Jones in the “Bluegrass Miracle” game versus Kentucky in 2002.
After graduating from LSU with a degree in business administration, Smith went to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he played pro football for one year with the B.C. Lions. “I saw lots of guys that were crippled and I just knew if I kept playing I would be crippled for the rest of my life,” he said.
He returned to Baton Rouge to work for Crawford Corp., a company that built an entire town on the East Coast.
He got married, had two daughters, Stacy, born in 1961, and Lesley, born in 1965. He got divorced and later married Joy, his wife for 37 years. Between them, they have four grown children and now seven grandchildren. In 1965, he went to work for Lincoln National Life.
Believes in power of prayer
Smith said he believes in the power of prayer and has many stories of prayers being answered.
For several years, he regularly visited and prayed for an atheist friend who cursed every time he mentioned God, Smith said. The man eventually entered a nursing home with terminal throat cancer.
“I told him if you don’t ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life you’re going straight to hell. I just told him that straight out,” Smith said.
While Smith was away on a business trip, the man died and upon his return the man’s son called him.
“I thought he wanted me to say something at his funeral but he told me, ‘Dad rang for help, got out and knelt by his bed, prayed the sinner’s prayer, got back in bed and died,’” Smith said the son told him.
That story doesn’t surprise one of Smith’s longtime friends, retired Judge Darrel White.
“He is a God-fearing man and has powerful prayer,” White said. “There are secret agents for Christ and there are ambassadors for Christ, and Bill Smith is an ambassador for Christ. He is not ashamed of the gospel, and he will tell anyone Jesus Christ is his Lord.”