July 2004 - News Story:

July 19, 1934June 16, 2004

Rev. Wayne Smith dies on June 16

Founder of Friendship Force;

Big Canoe Chapel Associate Chaplain

Wayne Smith, founder of The Friendship Force

By Charlene Terrell

            Wayne Smith died on June 16, 2004 at his home in Big Canoe following a lengthy battle against the debilitating, chronic, autoimmune neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis.  This disease often affects muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, chewing, talking and swallowing. Wayne also suffered from macular degeneration, which had significantly diminished his sight.

Wayne Smith Remembered
By Jimmy R. Allen,
Chaplain Emeritus,
Big Canoe Chapel

            Wayne Smith was born in South Charleston, West Virginia on July 19, 1934 to Myree Cobb and Carl Smith.  Due to family circumstances, he was raised by his grandmother, Myrtle McGill Smith, whom he called “Mee-Maw” and her second husband, an Italian immigrant named Vincent Tiago “Jimmy” Muscatello, who Wayne called Pee-Paw.  He dearly loved his grandparents and called them the “mother and father of my heart.”

            During his high school days he met and fell in love with Carolyn Heaster, the pretty girl who would become his wife when he was nineteen and she was only eighteen.  Carolyn attended the Presbyterian Church and she invited Wayne to her church.  It was there that he experienced a religious conversion and felt the call to be a minister.

            Wayne later attended Morris Harvey College and graduated from West Virginia State College and Union Theological Seminary of Virginia.  From 1963-1970 he served as a Presbyterian Missionary in Brazil. He lived there with his wife and their four small children.  In 1971 he and his family returned to the United States from Brazilia, the capital of Brazil. 

            Wayne attended West Virginia State because it was near his workplace. He was the only white student.  The school soon found that their new student was colorblind – he didn’t pay attention to externals like skin color...  In 1993, the school voted Wayne as the “outstanding black alumnae of the year.” Wayne was Caucasian, but because he was colorblind, the leaders of the college showed that they could be colorblind also!  Wayne received the award for his mission of global understanding and friendship.

            From 1971-1975 he served as Minister to the Community of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.  In 1977 he assumed the responsibility as the Senior Minster of the Decatur Presbyterian Church.  In 1979 he became President of The Friendship Force, which he founded in 1977 with participation from then-President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter. The very first Friendship Force exchange was between Atlanta and Newcastle Upon Tyne on July 4, 1977.

Wayne Smith: “A Dreamer’s Dreamer”

            Wayne Smith didn’t invent friendship but it could be argued that he perfected the art of making friends and of being a friend to others. After serving as a missionary to Brazil, Wayne’s fertile mind came up with the idea of The Friendship Force in 1977.

Today The Friendship Force is an organization that promotes friendship and understanding between people in more than 50 countries around the world. The motto of the organization is “A World of Friends is a World of Peace.”

The idea is simple.  Through home stays, people get to know each other around kitchen tables instead of conference tables.  They live together with their hosts for a week or two, and during this time they are part of the same family.  Does it work?  It does indeed.  In fact, it works so well that it’s called ‘Friendship Force magic’.

This year about 4,000 people will make friends through home stays and the best thing about these friendships is that they typically last and grow stronger across the years.  This “magic” thrilled Wayne Smith because he started The Friendship Force to provide ordinary citizens of the world the opportunity to establish personal friendships in other countries and to see for themselves how wonderful and life enriching the experience could be.

            After Wayne retired from The Friendship Force in 2000, he continued to promote understanding through friendship.  In October 2002, Smith organized World Pilgrims and led a delegation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy on an interfaith pilgrimage to Turkey. The members of this delegation made lasting friendships on their journey and they still work on interfaith understanding in Atlanta.

            In December 2003, Wayne Smith led a delegation for The Friendship Force to the Middle East with home stays that he arranged with Iraqi families in Jordan. Few people could have planned and executed this journey at such a difficult time in history.

Daughter Susan Smith

 is President of

The Friendship Force

            Wayne Smith’s daughter, Susan Smith, agreed to take over the leadership of The Friendship Force in January 2003, following the resignation of Chip Carter in November 2002.  The organization was in a state of disarray when Susan took the job but she did a remarkable job of guiding The Friendship Force to a successful year despite the war with Iraq and the scare from SARS.

Wayne Smith was immensely proud of his daughter’s accomplishments for The Friendship Force.  (Susan resigned from The Friendship Force as of April 1, 2004 and moved back to California in preparation for her upcoming marriage to Bob Bennitt.)

Family graveside service June 19;

memorial service June 21

            A private graveside service was held on Saturday, June 19, at Big Canoe Chapel Cemetery. A memorial service was held on Monday, June 21, at Big Canoe Chapel with a reception following in the Broyles Community Center. The Chapel was filled to overflow capacity and about 45 choir members were seated on the altar platform.

Officiating at the service was Dr. Jim McCormick and Dr. Jimmy R. Allen.  Other speakers included Susan, Andy and Steve Smith, children of Wayne and Carolyn; Bill Hagan, former member of the Board of Trustees of Friendship Force International; George Brown, President of Friendship Force International; Thomas G. Cousins, the original developer of Big Canoe and an old friend of the family; Levy Tavares, former member of the Congress of Brazil and a dear family friend of 40 years; Sam Rothermel, Chapel Youth leader; Imam Plemon El-Amin, a participant in World Pilgrims and former President Jimmy Carter.

Frank Boggs, well-known soloist and choral director, sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”  Under the direction of Lamar Helms, the Big Canoe Chapel Choir sang “Creation Will Be at Peace.”

            Imam Plemon El Amin of Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam said, “Wayne Smith dreamed no small dreams and thought no small thoughts.”  He added, “We must keep Wayne’s dream alive so that his work will survive and inspire others for years to come.”

            George Brown, President of Friendship Force International, said, “Wayne believed passionately in the basic goodness of men and women, regardless of their nationality, background, religion or any of the other differences that so often separate us.  Wayne Smith believed that if people could just spend a few days in each other’s homes they could become friends – and that if enough people did this, the world would gradually become more peaceful.  The single-minded energy with which Wayne pursued his dreams set him apart.”

            In 1992, The Friendship Force was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Ed Jenkins, Georgia’s Ninth District Congressman, made the nomination.  In presenting the nomination, Jenkins said, “There is evidence and testimony that The Friendship Force, while devoid of actual political activity, has had an influence on the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the advance of democracy in the former Soviet Union and the promotion of peaceful solutions to problems in the Middle East and China.”

            Tom Cousins told of the time when Wayne was Minister to the Community at Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church and decided to seek out those who needed to find God the most.  One of those Wayne called on was Mike Thevis, known as the Porn King of Atlanta.  Tom said he asked Wayne how he could call on such a man as Thevis.  Wayne calmly replied, “He’s a child of God, Tom.”

            Levy Tavares asked his daughter Angelica to read his prepared remarks.  “I have a big lump in my throat,” he said.  Levy said that he and Wayne were like brothers and that they were also best friends.  He spoke of the Friendship Force program in Brazil and noted that it had been very successful.

            Bill Hagan of Dayton, Ohio, spoke warmly of Wayne Smith, his friend of 24 years.  He talked of the special tie that Wayne felt for Big Canoe and for the Chapel.  Bill then read a poem he composed called “A Special Man in A Special Place.”

            Former President Jimmy Carter said that he and Wayne Smith met while Carter was governor of Georgia. First Wayne took Governor Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter on a trip to Brazil to meet members of the Brazilian Congress.  Fluent in Portuguese, Wayne acted as their guide and interpreter. They had a very successful visit.

            “But,” said President Carter, “This was not the last time we would travel with Wayne.  Following our successful visit to Brazil, Wayne talked about his idea of people-to-people diplomacy.  In 1973, Wayne arranged for a chartered jet to take 200 Georgians to Brazil to live in private homes and 200 Brazilians to come to Georgia to live in our homes.  Rosalyn traveled to Pernambuco, Brazil on this exchange and I hosted Brazilians back at the Governor’s Mansion. Little did we know what Wayne Smith had in store for us after that exchange.”

            Dr. Jimmy Allen described Wayne Smith as one who “stood beside the door.” He said Wayne knew there were people searching for God, but they did not know how to find Him.  Wayne stood by the door to God and helped others find that door.

            Wayne Smith is survived by his wife Carolyn, sons David, Stephen and Andrew and daughter Susan; brother and sister-in-law, James and Grace Smith; sister Barbara Peggs; daughter-in-laws Manuela Smith and Dirce Smith and soon to be son-in-law, Bob Bennitt; grandchildren, James, Jessica, Nicola, Lukas and Anna Smith.

            Memorial contributions may be made to the Big Canoe Chapel Benevolence Fund or to Boldrini Children’s Hospital, % Big Canoe Chapel, 10455 Big Canoe, Big Canoe, GA 30143.

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