Francis Wallace Smith
July 19, 1934 – September 5, 2019
On July 19, 1934, at 9:20 p.m., Francis Wallace Smith was born to the late Silas Jr. and Ida Louise (Diggs) Smith in Edgefield, South Carolina. Two older brothers, Julius and Benjamin happily received him. Younger brother Edgar (Sonny) arrived six years and two months later. On September 5, 2019, Francis unexpectedly took his last breath. Francis was affectionately named “Baby” (by Barbara), “Smitty” (by friends), “Buzzard” (by Elgin Baylor), “Frankie” (by Josephine Holland), “Chauffeur” (by Agnes Bowrin), and Grampi (by Granddaughter, Brittani).
Francis came from a lineage of men with gifted hands. His father and grandfather built the family home made of wood and brick. The home had two bedrooms, a kitchen and living room. A concrete walkway with brick pillars on each side of the steps had family footprints embedded in the foundation. When his Ford was totaled in an automobile accident with a Chevrolet, Francis’s dad built another vehicle using the wreckage of the Ford and Chevrolet. His father was a barber by trade and a musically-inclined entrepreneur. He owned a café where his band performed and entertained patrons. With no formal training, his father could read music as well as play tenor saxophone, piano, guitar, drums and a banjo. Also gifted in athleticism, Francis’s father had his own baseball team and acquired a goat named Pete to transport Francis and his brothers to the baseball field. He built a two-wheeled cart and trained Pete to pull the cart with reins so the boys could watch him play. One day something strange happened. Pete took off running with only Francis inside. Francis released the reins and hollered just in time to get his father’s attention. His father immediately stopped playing, chased the cart, and caught Pete and Francis before they landed in a ditch. To this day, Brother Benny is still salty about not having his turn to ride the wagon with Pete!
When Francis was six years old, his family migrated to Washington, DC for better working opportunities and schooling. Francis began his schooling and love for basketball at Stevens Elementary School. This was partly due to the example his mother set for her sons by her success in the sport. For his mother graduated from South Carolina State as an Educator where she received the family’s first letter in basketball. Because of his sharpshooting basketball skills, Francis became the First Black Basketball player to earn All-Met honors in the history of the DC, Maryland & Virginia (DMV) region – one year before his high school teammate and lifelong friend NBA Hall of Famer, Elgin Baylor. You will always hear Francis praise his favorite coach, Coach David Brown for his coaching and educational encouragement. As you can see, basketball was Francis’s passion, until another passion came along as a petite cheerleader at Spingarn Senior High School named Barbara Mercer. In 1954, both of them graduated in the first graduating Class at Spingarn Senior High School in Washington, DC.
Francis and Barbara’s courtship consisted of movies, miniature golf and walks. Walks, especially to Highs Ice Cream Store just to buy a pint of Butter Brickle ice cream. Each time Francis visited Barbara, she would hear him whistling a block away, “Moonlight in Vermont.” This became their trademark. After graduating from Spingarn High School, Francis accepted a scholarship at Maryland State College. However, that next year, he chose to join the military and reported to Fort Jackson Army Installation in South Carolina for basic training. During his first furlough, he re-visited Maryland State College to witness Barbara becoming Miss Homecoming Queen and to her surprise Francis proposed to her; Barbara accepted. While still in basic training, Francis was selected to play basketball on the Replacement Team that consisted of all white players. Three days after joining the team, Francis scored 52 points as a shooting guard. Thereafter, Francis was immediately chosen to play for Ft. Jackson’s Post Team. Although he received notoriety for his extraordinary basketball performances and was featured in countless newspaper articles, Francis was not allowed to play against white colleges, due to racial prejudices. Thus, he elected not to play at all with the team. He continued his studies at Colorado State. Francis completed his military service, received an honorable discharge, and returned to Washington, DC.
Francis was given the opportunity to try-out for the Minneapolis Lakers, now known as the Los Angeles Lakers. Although he mastered defensive moves, foul shots and 3-point plays, his small physique of 148 lbs. was not enough to qualify him for the team. However, he was qualified to continue with his beautiful marriage to Barbara. During that time, Francis caught the attention of University of Minnesota Head Coach John Kundla, former Minneapolis Lakers Head Coach and NBA Hall of Famer. Coach Kundla offered him a full scholarship, a fully furnished apartment, and a job for Barbara. Francis declined because he did not want to relocate Barbara to the west coast because of her illness. Happily, they started a loving family by welcoming two daughters, Robynne born in 1963, energetic and carefree and Tracie in 1965, more reserved and quiet. Both daughters would come to be loved as individuals with their own unique personalities.
Francis began his working career with the United States Postal Service and worked collectively for 37 years with the D.C. Government. Keeping with their theme of doing everything together, Francis and Barbara both retired on June 30, 1995; Francis as a Budget Analyst and Barbara as an Educator with the D.C. Public School System. They also golfed together, bowled in leagues and tournaments, vacationed locally and abroad, landscaped their property, attended Broadway shows, gambled at casinos and played cards all while wearing matching outfits. Francis was an enthusiastic jazz lover who loved to attend jazz concerts with Barbara and their equally enthusiastic friends Carlos and Pat Gorham who are jazz lovers, too. Francis sought opportunities to teach youngsters the fundamentals of basketball, character development, relationship building and the joy of the game. He became the first Black Basketball Coach at Holy Family Catholic School. As Head Coach for the Girls and Boys Basketball and Softball Teams, Francis taught the value of hard work and respect for teammates and opponents. He instituted, designed and led the school’s first Basketball Clinic for girls, boys and the entire parish, and in 1978, led the girls to victory as the team won the Division Championship. Francis continued coaching at the high school and university levels as Head Coach at Randall Jr. High School and Assistant Coach for Anacostia Senior High School, Sherman Douglas Summer Camp and for Southeastern University.
Just to mention a few other honors/awards that Francis received are: Pigskins Club of Washington; Native Washingtonian Unsung Hero; S.H.A.R.E. Volunteer Service Award; Spingarn Alumni Association; Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Service Award; ( 3 )Triple Crown Bowling Awards; ( 2 ) Plaques for bowling 11 Strikes-in-a-Row; ( 2 ) Outstanding Bowling Achievement Awards from Southeastern University; Senior Olympics/Individual, Doubles and Team Award; ABC Bowling Congress-Monetary Championship Award for Team, Doubles and Individual; and “S” Club Career Day.
Although coaching and basketball were his passions, Francis’s greatest joy was his family. Francis was a loving husband, devoted father and doting grandfather and great-grandfather. The entire family played board games, bowled in leagues, played golf both recreationally and in tournaments, and traveled together across the country.
As a husband, Francis was a friend, loving companion, confidant and caregiver who provided a brim of safety and security. As a father, Francis was a protector and disciplinarian who provided wisdom, patience and laughter. As the patriarch of the family, Francis was a role model, a man of integrity who was unafraid to take a stand for his beliefs. As a servant to his community, Francis co-founded the Spingarn Alumni Association. He served as President for 13 years, with a record of never being absent from a meeting. Prior to receiving President Emeritus status, Francis was instrumental in raising scholarships for high school students and conducting workshops for career placement.
Francis served for ten years as Host Coordinator of the S.H.A.R.E. Program for Ignatius Catholic Church, and Chairman of the Care and Comfort Ushering Ministry at Holy Family Catholic Church. He recruited his brother Julius to design an innovative asphalt floor plan for the newly-constructed gymnasium at Holy Family Catholic School – a groundbreaking first in the metropolitan area. Francis also volunteered to maintain the gymnasium floor after all CYO games. Finally, Francis was President of the 1000 Acre Social Club. The life of Francis Wallace Smith was a life well lived serving his country, family and fellow man. As a Prostate Cancer survivor and three years in remission from Lung Cancer, Francis kept the faith to believe that one day there would be a cure for the disease that tried defeat him. He was a survivor who overcame medical obstacles with strength and dignity.
Francis’s memory, spirit and zest for life will continue to live in the hearts and lives of his devoted wife of 61 years, Barbara Mercer; loving daughters Robynne F. Carter (Rozier) and Tracie M. Thomas-Goodman (John); Grandchildren, Brittani M. Spriggs, Francis W. Hawkins, and Isaiah J. Thomas; Step-Grandchildren Rachel R. Carter and Briana E. Carter (Mark); Great-Grandchildren Tre’yon R. Carter and Milani D. Crutchfield; Brothers, Julius (deceased Madeline), Benjamin (Mercedes) and a deceased brother Edgar; Sister-in-law Joye Mercer-Branson; Goddaughter Karen LeCounte and a host of nieces, nephews, and cousins. You all know that I AM the favorite. ~ Brittani, Granddaughter
What did I tell you Grampi? I got you! I have you in my heart and you will always walk with me.” ~ Francis, Grandson (Two weeks before Grampi’s passing, Francis tattooed Grampi’s smiling face on his leg).
I will always be your Big Kahuna. ~ Isaiah, Grandson
Holy Family Catholic Church
2210 Callaway Street
Holy Family Catholic Church
2210 Calloway Street