02 May 2013
- Written by Dr. Karanja A. Ajanaku
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A civil rights icon to many, Dr. Maxine A. Smith was first and foremost a friend of longstanding to Peggy Cox Brewer.
Dr. Smith, who died last Friday (April 26) after an extended illness, is practically synonymous with the Memphis Branch NAACP (having served for decades as executive secretary) and education (longtime Memphis Board of Education commissioner and a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents).
Brewer, the widow of former State Rep. Harper Brewer, acknowledges and appreciates all of Dr. Smith's career accomplishments. They are just not the first things that come to mind.
"Maxine," she said, "cared deeply about people." And with that opening, Brewer tapped into her memory of her friend.
"She would do anything for you as a friend, and it didn't matter what it was or how hard it was for her. She was just that kind of person. If she thought I was having a bad day, she would call me I don't know how many times just to see how I was doing. Or she would call me at 11 o'clock at night or 12 o'clock just to talk."
The last conversation two had will be one that Brewer said she never will forget. It was last Monday. The husband of one of Dr. Smith's out-of-town friends had died. Dr. Smith was mostly unavailable by telephone and Brewer got a call to go over to the house to let Dr. Smith know of the news.
"I did and she was so concerned about how she (her friend) was doing that she could not even think about herself," said Brewer.
"She started telling me all she wanted me to do – get this and get that so that she could get it (to her friend) and support her. I said, 'OK, I'll go and pick all that up.' I was supposed to take it back last Friday and I had gathered everything, but she died that day."
Brewer and Dr. Smith's friendship stretches back 41 years. For about two years, she worked directly with Dr. Smith, serving as the Memphis Branch NAACP program director.
"I was a teacher at Snowden School and I had done so much volunteer work (for the NAACP) that she was determined that I was going to come and work for the NAACP. My husband didn't like it that much, not the NAACP, quitting my job with all my benefits to go to a job with none."
Brewer had young children and the job was "just too demanding" to go beyond the two years. She moved on to Memphis Light, Gas & Water.
"Working at the NAACP, I would go there in the mornings like at 8 o'clock and sometimes I would not get home until 10 or 11 that night. And Maxine, she thought nothing about it, being there forever and making sure everything she wanted to accomplish was done. I had to stay there with her because not only was it my job, I didn't want to leave her there. We were loyal to each other."
People are talking about Dr. Smith's accomplishments from myriad and varied places all over the city. All deserved, although Dr. Smith was never the kind of person who sought accolades, said Brewer.
"Maxine did what she did for the city and the people in Memphis, and not only all the time black people. Sure, her struggle was too improve the plight of black people, but she was kind and courteous and generous to all people," Brewer said.
"Now, she had good judgment to the point that she could spot one that was not sincere right away."
Dr. Smith, said Brewer, "had lots of courage. She would say anything that she wanted, but she did have a way of saying things. She was feisty and she meant she was going to win. She had the ability to frame her words and not be abrasive. But she was not going to give up and she was going to push to the end, no matter what."
Many times, Dr. Smith would get discouraged, said Brewer, "but that made her more determined. It was important to her to accomplish her goals. ... "There were times when she did not always get a 'yes,' but she would always get her way in the end."
Services for Dr. Smith will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Metropolitan Baptist Church. The planning for the service calls for it to move in a timely many.
Brewer chuckled, remembering that Dr. Smith often didn't here to prescribed times.
"Just walking to get somewhere, she would stop and talk to all these people. They would try to talk to her and she would stop to see what they wanted. And it could be anybody, people who didn't even know her. That was her. She just really, really loved people?"
Many good things will be said at the home going service, and they will be accurate, said Brewer.
"I just want to say this: I think Maxine was a very remarkable person and that Memphis is a better place because of her.
"There are people who didn't like her...and probably still don't like her because of the changes she made. But there were so many more that did."
(A public viewing for Dr. Smith also will be held at Metropolitan Baptist Church at 767 Walker on Saturday from 1 to 9 p.m. R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home has charge. Burial will be in Elmwood.)