A few hours after William "Smitty" Smith, 80, died in a house fire on Big Falls Road in Monkton on Aug. 30, a Parkton family stopped to pay their respects to a man they waved to as they drove by his house.
They placed flowers on the chair in his driveway where he sat every day. The card read, "Mr. Smith. Thank you for making our mornings bright!! We will miss your smiling face in our mornings. You will be missed. God speed."
The author was Deb Westwater, who said a friend at Hereford Volunteer Fire Company told her of Smith's death.
"We used to go by as a shortcut to Hereford Middle School," she said, as she drove her twins Maddie and Cullen to school. "Every morning we'd honk and he'd wave back. He touched our lives without us ever knowing anything about him. If there was a day he wasn't there, the kids would ask where he was."
Smith was found dead in a burning house in the 17000 block of Big Falls Road by firefighters. Next-door neighbor Eric Bodendorfer called 911 at 12:25 a.m. after he awoke to flames and smoke, said his wife, Molly.
"He was yelling, 'Fire! Fire! Fire!' Then we realized it was next door," she said. "I want to thank the firefighters. You could see them with flashlights going through the upstairs rooms even when the downstairs was still burning."
The day after the blaze, people stopped by the two-story wooden house to talk about Smitty.
His full name was William Harrison Leo Smith, born in 1930 on Big Falls Road, one of 11 children born to Ellsworth and Dora Smith.
He wrote an autobiography in 2005 that was included in a book on North County's African American communities written by historian Louis Diggs.
In that book by Diggs, titled "The North County," Smith said he went to the Hereford Colored School before completing seventh grade at the Shepperd Colored School. He was proud to have paid his own tuition to Apex Barber School and worked as a barber before being drafted in 1950.
He served during the Korean War and was awarded a Purple Heart. After his return to Monkton, he worked as a barber in Towson, moved in with Ethel Cromwell at the house in which he died, and converted the basement to a two-chair barbershop for neighbors.
Smith also drove a bus for Baltimore County schools, retiring in 1999 after 38 years behind the wheel.
Cromwell died in February and Smith was heartbroken, said Smith's niece, Joyce Butler, who lives on Big Falls Road.
The fire's origin is still being investigated. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.