Clayton Smith was a genial, gracious, modest man of great moral strength and managerial experience who made a remarkably constructive impact upon the life of Carthage and its citizens over a span of more than half a century. Born in San Antonio, Texas on December 11, 1922, to Clayton Smith and Charlotte Cunningham Smith, he spent his early years in Carthage, attending Mark Twain School, before his family moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he graduated from Central High School, and met his future bride Hazel “Scottie” Conkling.
He attended the University of Missouri, and as an ROTC trainee, advanced into regular U. S. Army training, completing his bachelors degree while gaining his commission as a lieutenant of infantry. He and Scottie were married in 1944 at Fort Benning, Georgia before he went to the European theater, leading a combat infantry platoon across France and Germany. He was briefly listed as Missing in Action, and was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery under fire. A highlight of his war experience came when he fired the bazooka charge that ripped open the front gate of Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp. He walked through the gate and turned off
the gas supply to the furnaces that were being used to execute Jews and other political prisoners.
After World War II, Clayton returned to Carthage, where he and Scottie raised three daughters and a son, joining his father at Smith Brothers Manufacturing Company, and succeeding his father as President in 1959. He built the garment making firm into a prominent place in the textiles industry at the national level, with several plants in Missouri and Kansas. The Big Smith brand became familiar to several generations of Americans. After selling the business in 1972, Clayton turned to other pursuits including Tuxall Uniform and Equipment Company, which provided uniforms and equipment to law enforcement personnel in four states.
Clayton’s business and people skills were not limited to the family enterprises. He served on the Board of Public Works, was an active participant in the Carthage YMCA and Little League Baseball, was on the National Board of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and was a long time member of Carthage Rotary Club. Clayton and his good friend W. C. Putnam served together on the McCune-Brooks Hospital Board for many years, and one of them checked in at the hospital nearly every day to see how they could help. He served as an advisor to local businesses and as President of First Security Savings and Loan. Often behind the scenes, and without fanfare, his impact upon civic, charitable, church and community provided benefits that will continue for years to come. His devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ is a lasting inspiration to both family and friends.
After retirement, he and Scottie spent several years in Kansas City and then Oklahoma City where he died in 2005 at age 82. He is buried in Carthage at Park Cemetery. Thanks to Marvin VanGilder and The Carthage Press.