Attorney Merck K. Smith wrote the following remembrance of his father, retired DeKalb State Court Judge Jack B. Smith, who died Nov. 24 at age 88. Merck Smith, who practices law and operates a media company he founded, said he was inspired to become a lawyer after watching his father as a DeKalb solicitor and judge.
Atlanta underwent many significant changes from the late 1950s through the millennium. Throughout these changes, never straying from the steady course that earned him the respect and admiration he carried throughout his career, was Judge Jack B. Smith of the State Court of DeKalb County.
Judge Smith, 88, a resident of Decatur, died in his sleep of natural causes on the morning of Nov. 24. With his passing, the legal community of Atlanta lost a great and well-respected comrade.
Smith was born on Oct. 23, 1924, and grew up in Atlanta at a time when the trolleys still ran and the roads to outlying towns were mostly unpaved. The Great Depression set in shortly after his fifth birthday, and he remembered growing up really knowing no different as to the hard times endured by all.
He grew up in Decatur, attending Oakhurst Elementary School, and he was quick to recount many happy memories about those days. One of his favorite stories was about hanging around the service station, hoping to secure ball bearings with which he could play marbles. His father, Dorsey Smith, was a traveling bulk paper salesman at the time, and on occasion he would get to travel with his father, Savannah being one of his favorite locations.
Smith attended Decatur High School, where he excelled scholastically and enjoyed playing sports. He was back-up quarterback to Frank Broyles, former legendary coach at Arkansas, and he was also the designated extra point kicker. He played guard on the basketball team, this being his strongest sport, and played outfield and occasionally pitched for the baseball team. He was also a member of the ROTC, which would later further shape his life.
After high school, Smith attended North Georgia College in anticipation of entering the service upon his 18th birthday. He entered the infantry but opted out when an opportunity arose to attend Officer Training School. Attending Georgia Tech during the day and working at a cotton mill at night, Smith waited for his opening at the Air Force Officer Training Academy. Upon completion, Smith was stationed in Kimbolton, England, and flew 33 missions as a navigator on a B-17.
Judge Smith recalled countless stories of his days in the service, from thinking to himself on his first mission how pretty the flak bombs lookeduntil the shrapnel started penetrating his plane, to his taking part in the infamous raid on Dresden, Germany. It is interesting to note that he flew a number of missions over Berlin at the time his future wife was still living there.
After the war, Smith returned to Decatur and attended Emory University, where he earned a degree in journalism. After a brief spell of work he decided that this was not the profession for him.
Still having tuition available under the G.I. Bill, Smith went to Emory law school and inquired about enrollment. He was asked if he had a four-year degree and was then told that he could start attending classes the next week or in several months. He replied that he would start the next week. This was a decision that turned out to benefit the legal community for years to come.