The Good Samaritan
By Lisa Tramontana
It’s hard to know where to start when describing Bill Smith. Father and husband, insurance professional, Sunday school teacher, LSU football player, prison minister, chili cook, Bible deliveryman, cowboy …
Well, we might as well start there …
Even now, in his early 80s, Smith is entirely comfortable in his well-worn cowboy hat and boots, moving cattle. At least twice a year, he joins friends in Lottie, Louisiana (about halfway between Baton Rouge and Opelousas) to move cattle from one pasture to another and provide them with medical care, including weighing them and administering shots.
It’s not such an unusual hobby when you consider that Smith grew up in north Louisiana, in an area known as Texarkana. He was surrounded by horses, cattle, and cowboys. He grew up with a strong Christian faith, thanks to his mother, who was half Cherokee. “She was a tiny woman, about 110 pounds,” Smith said, “and she made sure I went to church every Sunday. She knew everybody! Every morning, she’d get up early and make two big pots of coffee, and neighbors and friends would drop by all morning. They’d just sit and talk. Everyone was welcome.”
Smith says he recalls his father going to church exactly twice in his lifetime. He was a good man, Smith said, but quiet about his faith. “I was really lucky to have family and friends, preachers, even a high school coach who really cared about me and set a good example for me to live my life.”
In 1954, Smith arrived at LSU on a football scholarship and roomed with Jim Taylor, who went on to play for 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. The two were not only roommates and teammates, but they also shared a deep Christian faith. For years afterward, Smith was involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and even served as president in the 1970s.
Like most young men, marriage, family and work eventually became his focus, but Smith was constantly looking for ways to practice his faith. His daughter, Stacy Bennett, says she couldn’t have asked for a better father or role model.
“My dad was always a very hands-on man who worked hard and set a positive example for his children,” she said. “He always made it clear that God and his family came first in his life. Many times over the years, I’d hear people tease him and say he missed his calling — that he should have been a minister.”
Apparently, that was on his to-do list as well, although he chose to minister to inmates at Angola. In fact, he was instrumental in founding Cowboys for Christ, an organization designed to share the gospel and reflect God’s love with prisoners who sought a relationship with Christ. That was more than 40 years ago, and it remains one of Smith’s biggest accomplishments. The ministry is nationwide and today, includes Cowboy Church, which is conducted at rodeos, trail rides and county fairs. Cowboys for Christ was also the inspiration for the popular Angola Prison Rodeo, which is held twice a year in the fall and in the spring.
Since retirement, Smith has joined his friend, retired Judge Darrell White, in a special project of the American Judicial Alliance. The group personally delivers replicas of the Harlan Bible to judges and courthouses across the country.* Armed with their commemorative Bibles, the two have made road trips to Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and beyond.
Judge White has been impressed by Smith’s energy and optimism. “Bill is Baton Rouge’s 24/7 goodwill ambassador and good Samaritan,” said Judge White. “He literally drives around town looking for trouble — with jumper cables, a full gas can, and a tow rope in his truck bed so he can assist stranded motorists. And he’s active in nursing home visitation, prison ministry and a host of other Christlike activities. He’s a living, breathing example of James 1:26-27.”
In spite of his busy schedule, Smith still finds time to work as a Sunday school teacher at Parkview Baptist Church, and he leads several Bible studies in the area, including at local nursing homes. It seems there is always someone to help.
“I love God,” Smith said. “It really is as simple as that. So it makes me happy to be the kind of person He wants me to be. It’s not hard! Smile at people, thank them, hold the door open, do someone a favor, offer your friendship. There are opportunities everywhere to be a good Christian.”
*In 1906 Justice John Marshall Harlan dedicated a Bible to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, every Supreme Court justice has signed the Bible’s flyleaf, a tradition now being replicated by the American Judicial Alliance.
“Bill is Baton Rouge’s 24/7 goodwill ambassador and good Samaritan. He literally drives around town looking for trouble — with jumper cables, a full gas can, and a tow rope in his truck bed so he can assist stranded motorists.”
— Retired Judge Darrell White