Eleanor Smith

Eleanor Smith

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

Eleanor Smith moved to a house on Jasmine Place when she was nine years old and, with the exception of three years when she and her husband, Lawton, lived in Jacksonville Beach, she has been a resident of Murray Hill. Eleanor and Lawton met at a Halloween Carnival Ruth N. Upson Elementary School when she was 11 years old and he was 12. “We thought we pretty well knew each other by the time we got married at Murray Hill Baptist Church on July 1, 1949, but you really never know a person until you live together,” says Eleanor, with a laugh, noting that she and Lawton have been married for 64 years, so she knows him pretty well by now.

In 1955, the Smiths bought a house on Lawnview Street and, to Eleanor’s knowledge, it was the only dirt street left in Murray Hill. “From Hamilton to Cassatt, it was still dirt,” she recalls. “We’re still living on that same street today, but much has changed in the past 59 years.”
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Eleanor, who graduated from Lee High School and attended Carson Newnan College in Jefferson City, Tenn. for one year, worked in the accounting department at Bell South until their son Mark was born shortly after they bought their home on Lawnview. Eleven years later, their daughter Laura came along. Both children were born at the old Riverside Hospital and the late Dr. L’Engle was their pediatrician. When Eleanor took Mark to enroll him in Mr. Spurlin’s kindergarten, Mr. Spurlin asked her if she’d be willing to teach the three-year old class. That was the beginning of a 15-year stint of kindergarten teaching, as she went from Spurlin’s to Murray Hill Baptist and St. Johns Presbyterian, working mainly with four-year-olds.

In the meantime, after 34 years with Bell South, Lawton retired in 1983 and became one of North Florida’s most popular square dance callers, participating with several clubs in Jacksonville including the Yellow Rockers, Mandarin Marauders and Dixie Grands, just to name a few. Eleanor enjoyed the square dancing clubs right along with Lawton and they had a great time getting to know people all over town through that wholesome community pastime.

Camping has been an enjoyable Smith family pastime as well. When their children were young, they had a little pop-up camper and used to go camping in North Georgia. They later got a travel trailer and would go to the mountains of North Carolina and camp at the Old Corundum Millsite Campgrounds. Some of their best Thanksgivings have been spent at the Cherokee Campground on Jekyll Island where they joined with many other families and had old-fashioned fish fries to celebrate the day. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, Lawton and Eleanor went traveling out west, flying out to Seattle, Portland and Denver and touring by motor coach. “Those were highlights of my life,” says Eleanor, “but the true highlights of my life have been my children and my one wonderful grandson, John Adam Smith. He was born on July 7th, the day before I turned 60, and he was the best birthday gift ever.”

When their grandson was small, they called themselves Grandma and Grandpa because that’s what their kids called Lawton’s parents, but little John Adam changed those names to Gammaw and Gang-Gang. Today, he’s 25 years old and a policeman in the town of Alachua, Fla. His grandparents couldn’t be prouder of him.

Eleanor’s adored grandson gave her a gift on her 70th birthday that speaks eloquently of his love and respect for his grandmother. On a framed piece of parchment paper in golden letters penned in his own childish hand, he wrote: “How I know Gammaw loves God: 1) She has a lot of Christian friends, 2) She works and plays the piano at church, 3) She has Christian books and things, 4) Reads the Bible a lot, 5) Has a Christian husband, 6) Has accepted Jesus into her heart, 7) Talks about God a lot, and 8) Lives a Christian life.” Eleanor jokes that whenever she’s tempted to yell at her husband, she thinks of that little framed reminder on the wall.

Speaking of yelling, there was another time their 10-year-old grandson set them straight about keeping their temper. They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in a fancy restaurant when John Adam asked for lobster. “It was so expensive, the price wasn’t even marked on the menu,” Eleanor recalls. “We were arguing over whether or not to let him order the lobster when he said, without even looking up from the menu, ‘Quit your fussin’ and try to make it to 51!’”

Eleanor and Lawton rarely eat out these days, not so much because it’s too expensive (although it is that), but mainly because Eleanor is a good cooSmith_01k who doesn’t mind fixing breakfast, lunch and dinner in her own kitchen. “I learned to cook on the phone,” she says matter-of-factly. “When I got home from school, I’d call mother at work and she’d tell me what to buy for dinner at the grocery store on the corner of Edgewood.  My sister and I would go to the store and then I’d call mother back at work and she’d tell me how to fix things.” Eleanor’s mother, Lucile Douglas Hubbard, was an office manager and a woman ahead of her time.

Today, Eleanor and Lawton, 85 and 86 respectively, remain active at Murray Hill Baptist Church and volunteer at St. Vincent’s Hospital as well. “Lawton drives the little security cart in the garage at St. Vincent’s on Monday and Thursday afternoon, I work in the breast center on Thursday afternoons,” says Eleanor. “Our son Mark lives in Gainesville now, but our daughter Laura lives nearby and is a big help to us.”

A woman who has many precious memories and continues to enjoy life to the fullest, Eleanor talks of special moments she has managed to capture with a camera – like the day she caught her grandson and his “Gang-Gang” both fast asleep in the easy chair, a classic photo that now holds a place of honor on the piano. “God has blessed us,” says Eleanor, “and if I ever have a moment’s doubt, I see that little piece of parchment on my wall with the two sticks glued in the shape of a cross on the corner of the frame, and I’m instantly reminded of my blessings.”

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