IN GOD’S BALLPARK

Published 12:07am Tuesday, January 1, 2013

 

Some called him unbelievable; others called him inspirational. But no matter how he is described, rest assured the late Durrell “Duke” Smith is now “making things right in God’s ballpark.”

Smith, 53, who passed away suddenly Sunday from a heart attack, worked for more than 16 years for the City of Andalusia’s department of leisure services. Hired by Dwight Mikel, the former director of leisure services in 1996, Smith served as the adult sports coordinator and the manager of the city’s sports complex. He would rise to become the assistant superintendent of parks and recreation.

It was a position he was well suited for, and one that he will be remembered the most for, Mikel said, as he described Smith’s “unbelievable” people skills.

“Any organization is made up of assets,” Mike said. “They can be physical or financial, but successful organizations are made up of personal assets. That was just one of Duke‘s strengths. He had all of the tools that he needed to successfully do his job — the knowledge and his skills. Probably the thing that carried him to the level and beyond was his people skills.”

Remembered most for his ever-present smile and jovial manner, Smith is also remembered for being fair, Mikel said.

“I think that’s one of the reasons that he was such a people person, even when he did have to so-to-speak, ‘drop the hammer,’” he said. “People knew he was dropping the hammer even-handedly for everybody, regardless of what the situation was. I don’t know if anybody got or stayed mad at him for any type of action.

“I think he will be remembered as a real fair person and a person who was really ready to help anybody and everybody,” he said.

Smith grew up in Andalusia and played sports as a youth and as an adult in the softball league. In fact, he even had a stint in a semi-pro baseball league.

Some 20 years ago, Smith coached the 14-to-15-year-old Babe Ruth League Dodgers baseball team – bringing them up from the minor league to Babe Ruth, and they later finished second.

The experience left an impression on former Dodger player and good friend Hunter Hobson, who said Smith was an inspiration not only to him, but also to so many others.

“He used to play baseball himself,” Hobson said. “He was a leader and someone I looked up to, and also a good friend. I was very devastated to hear the news.”

Nico Johnson, who now plays linebacker for the University of Alabama, also credits Smith for impacting his life. Johnson, who is Smith’s nephew, said on Facebook that Smith gave him his first job and always gave him a kind word when he was down.

Others shared their thoughts on the popular social networking site, giving their regards and wishing Smith a peaceful rest.

“This morning (Sunday) the Lord called home my wonderful cousin, Mr. Duke! He was an amazing cousin to me and always had something positive to say. I can see him now in Heaven making sure everything is right in God’s ballpark! I will miss you, but I will see you again one day, and it won’t be long. I love you, Mr. Duke… RIP,” Darious Davis wrote.

Mikel said a lot of the help Smith gave was never seen.

“There are a lot of things that went on that people don’t know about Duke,” he said. “He did a lot of things behind-the-scenes, whether it was through organizations or whether it was personal. He was one-of-a-kind.”

Smith was also the brain behind coordinating the annual Halloween on the Square, a favorite among area children.

“Halloween on the Square was his baby,” Mikel said.

Many agreed Smith’s attention to detail was second-to-none.

The City of Andalusia has played host to two World Series since Smith was hired, and he was helping to organize a third, which is set for this summer.

Also, Mikel said during his career, Smith was tasked with organizing scores of other ball tournaments and special events.

“He really had people’s best interests at heart,” Mikel said.

Barbara Tyler, the city’s grants coordinator who worked with Smith for 12 years, said he is simply “irreplaceable.”

“He was just a good person,” Tyler said. “Everybody liked him. He could get along with anybody. I think he just enjoyed people.”

Tyler said people will remember Smith most for his demeanor.

“(Smith) was a very generous man,” she said. “I think they’ll remember him from his smile and his laugh. When I think of Duke, that’s what I remember.”

Funeral arrangements are being directed by Marshall Hammonds Funeral Home. Visitation will be at Marshall Hammonds Funeral Home from 4:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Friday.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday at the Kiwanis Community Center at 2 p.m.

Smith was survived by his wife, Shelia; four daughters, Shunkisha Smith, Tiffany Smith, Stacie Smith and Camilla Gantt; a son, Zach Smith; and 10 grandchildren.

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