Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 2, 1960
NUMBER 42, PAGE 3b,12b-14

The Passing Of Eugene Smith

I. C. Nance, Okla. City, Okla.

Eugene Smith is dead! He was killed in a plane crash (his own plane — he was the pilot) near Opelika, Alabama, on Jan. 2, 1960. This writer attended his funeral in Dallas, Texas, on Jan. 5, 1960, conducted by Bro. B. W. Haney of Jackson, Miss. As we sat thru the funeral, a veritable swirl of thought and depression assailed me (it rained all day). I listened courteously thru the. service, but insistent memories forced their way upon my vision. I could see more than the grim casket containing the broken and burned (beyond recognition) remains of this my friend of yesteryear and one of the most controversial figures in the church of our Lord in this century. I could see the flowers, beautiful and courageous; the family, resigned and silent; the preacher, making the most of a difficult situation; and, the audience, curious and expectant. The picture I could see then is what I want you to see in the words that are to follow.

To those who knew him closely, Eugene S. Smith, Sr. was a genius with somewhat of a split personality. In one minute, he could be a charming genius while in another minute he could be almost a raging "maniac". There is little doubt in the mind of this writer that he died as one who was mentally ill. This writer was intimately associated with Eugene Smith for a number of years and, therefore, feels as qualified as anyone (outside the family) to write facts concerning his life. I write as a friend but aim to be plain and factual. It is hoped that these lines will countermand any wild speculations concerning the life of Brother Smith.

I first met Eugene Smith in a meeting in Asher, Oklahoma, in 1940 where Ector Watson was preaching. That was the year that the "National Weekly", Gospel Broadcast, was born, being published by Bro. Smith out of Dallas, Texas. Smith, at this time, was broadcasting over the powerful radio station in Del Rio, covering the nation with the gospel. But, he was soliciting supporting funds like a sectarian — which action did not "set well with his brethren, generally — and me, also. When questioned him about this activity, his answer was that "the gospel has to be preached" and that this was the most effective way to do it — hence, to him, "begging for money" was simply an EXPEDIENT (where have we heard this word?) to preaching the gospel. To him, it was a "good work" and the "end justified the means".

In 1940, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. came out with his article delineating Smith as the "gospel beggar" (in his own inimitable Wallace way). I fired a rejoinder to Smith for publication (not defending Smith's begging but showing what I considered Wallace's inconsistency) but Eugene would not print it on the ground that "WE ARE BRETHREN" (where have we heard this expression?) He felt that "brotherhood peace" was more expedient that defending one's self against unethical caricature by others. Down deep in his heart, Eugene Smith had rather take wrong than to fight back. That is, until he lost his temper. Even in 1941, when FEW. Jr. really "soused a whole bunch under" with his pen of wrath, Eugene Smith, which was really taken to a cleaning along with Ira Rice, Hogan myself, and others, would not enter the "scrap" with the rest of us. What Smith wanted most of all was "peace' — and recognition — lots of it.

Eugene S. Smith was called a "crook" and "dishonest' by a lot of brethren! Just here, I would like to insert an editorial excerpt by Smith published in Gospel Broad cast on Nov. 22, 1945:

Title: "My Sin Is Success"

"Is it wrong to thus ask for money? I am sure it is not and among the friends of my slanderers I find many other preachers doing the same thing. They did not find it wrong in me so long as I afforded them an advertising medium by the pages of Gospel Broadcast, but now they think it is terrible because they were suspended as writers for un-Christian articles and attitudes. My sin has been that I asked and received and succeeded in carrying out the great work to which I had set my hand and heart.

"In like manner you might examine every charge they have made and find them false and when not found false you would by careful comparison find them commendable in the actions of others who have attempted the same things and failed. There is but one answer to the problem.

Jealousy of success is the motivating power of these mouths that spread such charges.

"One says that I have been withdrawn from but no one can find the church that has taken such action. Another says I have not paid my bills but no one can find the man to whom I owe a dollar which is past due. Another says that I have used the money contributed for gospel work for my own personal purposes but carefully kept records and the equipment and money on hand, invested in the work for which contributed, gives lie to their charge".

Notwithstanding the foregoing, there is no doubt in the mind of this writer that in the years that followed, Brother Smith did "beat some debts". I have a number of letters in my file written and signed by persons who claim that Eugene borrowed hundreds of dollars on time and has never paid it back (as of 1954). I talked with Eugene about this and his reasoning was that this money that he owed was tied up in equipment but that he was (and always had been) "solvent", that is, if he should sell out that he would be able to pay off all debts and stockholders. However, according to his way of thinking, if he paid his debts, he would not be able to publish gospel literature which he considered expedient. Thus, he elevated "expediency" over the principle of "honesty" — a thing which many of my brethren seemed determined to do these days.

It is my personal conviction that Eugene Smith entered into his gospel efforts in the Cause of the Lord with honest intentions and noble purposes. However, his ambitions were greater than his personal ability, especially in financial matters. Thus, he fell to "promotion" as an expedient to underwrite his ambitions. Hence, when he "bit off more than he could chew" he began to get in deeper and deeper with his "loaners" until he could no longer juggle fast enough to keep ahead of notes due. Hence, the report of his "dishonesty". His wife, Kathryn, is of good, Tennessee stock. She is really a fine woman and a lovely person. However, she was married to Gene and, therefore, had to share his successes and failures. Her son, Eugene, Jr., is a fine young man and pretty near a dead ringer for his dad. They are now operating the business at a profit and I believe that they love the deceased enough that, eventually, they will PAY OFF all those old debts and thus clear the name of Eugene S. Smith like Brother Akin cleared the name of Foy E. Wallace in Nashville.

Eugene Smith and his wife have been in our home many times as guests. My wife and I have kept many preachers in our married life but one could not ask for more suitable or welcome guests than the Smiths. They were always understanding and congenial. In like manner, our family has many times been guests to the Smith home. One could not hope for better hosts. He was thoughtful and always a gentleman around us. The Smiths were as devoted as any couple we have ever seen. We often spoke of the marital calamities of others but they said, "That can't happen to us". But alas, it did! When Gene "lost his head" and began to abuse Katie there was nothing we could do because he was beyond reason. The last time this writer ever saw Eugene Smith was more than 5 years ago at the Santa Fe station here in Oklahoma City when he was on his way to Chicago. He was a mentally sick man and a pitifully appearing figure at the time. I never saw or heard from him at all any more.

The name of Eugene Smith will live in twentieth century history because of his books, his preaching, his debates, and other factors. As a preacher, he could grace the pulpit with the best; as a debater, he had no peer among the brethren; as a publisher, his work was A-1 quality; as an editor, he was as fair as any I have seen; and, to what he set his heart, he was usually successful. Thousands of persons will still say that some of the best preaching they ever heard was done by him. He moderated for this writer in debate and vice versa. His keen mind could readily recall and analyze the arguments of an opponent and come up with the scriptures for an answer. In his debate with Davis, the premillennial Baptist — whom I had previously debated, Smith allowed Davis to get "under his skin" with a side remark about Smith's radio program. Gene became so enraged at Davis that I had to quiet him down. Smith and I did not agree on a number of things but we could take each other's criticism — a rare thing with Gene.

In his years as an editor and publisher, Smith tried to be fair and give both sides. He published a lot of material that he did not believe and was heavily censured for printing the Beam, Boll, and Davidson articles. I know that he printed a number of articles from me that he did not believe. So far as I know Eugene did not "blue pencil" a single article which I sent in. However, thru the years as an editor he changed his position and views on a number of things. Most of his writers, especially J. L. Hines and I, did not share his changed views. His later positions were mostly digressive. I could not go along with this and J. L. Hines told him that "the Guardian boys are right" on the institutional question. Eugene fell out with many of his staff writers or associate editors. However, he and I never had a fuss or fell out. I stayed with Gene as long as I could do so conscientiously. I simply quit writing for the paper. When all of Gene's writers quit him, he quit his paper — and that was the end of the Gospel Broadcast — an era which will be remembered.

My mother was bed ridden with cancer for years. She loved to hear Eugene Smith preach. She listened to him much on radio. When she died in 1940, I called Gene in extreme South Texas where he was in a meeting. He left the meeting, caught a bus to Houston (which was wrecked by hitting a mule or a horse); took a plane to Dallas; and, his wife drove him to Oklahoma City for the funeral. Eugene Smith would go all out for a friend. He had his virtues and his vices. He had his good points and his bad ones. It pains me much that he forsook the right ways of the Lord in his later years. I shall always remember him kindly, profiting as best I can by his success and also his mistakes. The one word which will best delineate his downfall and decease is one that we hear a lot about these days — that is, "EXPEDIENCY". Let me tell you how expediency killed him:

Eugene got the strange notion that his wife was dominating him. He determined to divorce her, finally securing a "Mexican divorce" (claimed illegal by some). He then married a woman from Maryland (or that area) who had two teen age children and set up home in Chicago as a successful business man. He was successfully associated with the University of Chicago, owning a home,a farm, and an aeroplane. During the recent holidays, the children were spending vacation with her parents in Maryland. Eugene, his mistress, and their next-door neighbors (man and wife) flew from Chicago to Miami in their four-seat plane (Bonanza) for the Orange Bowl festivities. On Saturday following the Orange Bowl game it obviously became expedient at all cost to fly back to Chicago. Although a good pilot, who carefully charted his course, and who had made many successful flights, Gene failed to anticipate the violence of a squall line in Alabama. Although he made a valiant effort to find a weak place in the storm, the violence of the downdraft and the cross winds was too much for the plane and his skill, so he went into a spin with the ship, killing all four occupants instantly and burning the plane along with the victims. This was the end.

(Eugene Smith had very little use for Yater Tant and his family has very little use for Tant either. It is both ironical and paradoxical that Tant would publish such an account as this. But Yater Tant is not as bad as Eugene Smith thought he was. Eugene Smith was not as bad as many thought he was, especially prior to 1954. I know and love both these men. The Smith family and Yater should get better acquainted. The Eugene Smith whom I knew in his better days of yester-year would both glory and approve of this "write-up" in Yater's paper.)