William Davis Smoot, 82, traveling preacher and singer


Whether preaching in factories along the Eastern Shore or singing in a church choir, William Davis Smoot spent his time and energy spreading the gospel and helping others.

"Everything he did went to help someone else," said his granddaughter, Beth Benzinger of Cockeysville.

Mr. Smoot, 82, died Tuesday of pneumonia at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. He lived in Cockeysville.

Although he was not an ordained minister, Mr. Smoot spent over 38 years traveling in Europe and Maryland, giving out pocket-sized editions of the New Testament and sharing his faith with others.

Ann Smoot Bingham of Cockeysville recalled the times her father traveled to area canneries, factories and prisons to preach to a handful of listeners or groups of 50 or more.

"He gave people hope," said Mrs. Bingham. "And he tried to tell them to be happy in whatever situation and to be happy no matter what they did."

Born and raised in West Baltimore, Mr. Smoot graduated from Forest Park High School in 1931. Eight years later, he married Helen Bennett and worked for an airline and bank before trying to enlist in the service.

Unable to enlist because of a heart problem, Mr. Smoot went to work at Pocket Testament League, a Christian evangelical organization with headquarters in Lincoln Park, N.J. He rose to executive director and retired in 1988.

According to his daughter, his salary was dependent on donations and he never earned an income large enough to support his wife and three children lavishly. Despite that, he made sure to pay his secretary first when payday arrived and would take what was left for himself.

Harry Kauffman, a retired businessman who lives in Reisterstown, met Mr. Smoot while attending the former Arlington Presbyterian Church in the Pimlico section of Northwest Baltimore during the late 1930s and 1940s. They both sang in the church choir and often joked with one another, especially about Mr. Smoot's height. Mr. Smoot was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and Mr. Kauffman 6 inches shorter. Occasionally they would exchange suit coats to get laughs.

"We just had fun together," said Mr. Kauffman, a friend for 50 years. "He kind of liked to create a happy atmosphere."

Mr. Kauffman recalled that Mr. Smoot had a "splendid" singing voice.

Mr. Smoot sang in more than over 300 weddings and had a large collection of cuff links and tie clips from weddings in which he participated.

"I was 16 when I first heard his voice and I fell in love with him that day," said Nancy Winegard, 51. She became a close family friend since that time and bought Mr. Smoot's Cockeysville home nine years ago "because any other person wouldn't appreciate the flowers and trees he planted."

"To me, he was right up there next to God," Mrs. Winegrad said.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 15 at Timonium Presbyterian Church.

Mrs. Smoot died in 1987. Other survivors include two sons, William Davis Smoot Jr. of Lancaster, Pa.; Stephen R. Smoot of Parkton; a brother, the Rev. John Murray Smoot of Baltimore; two sisters, Laura Belle of Cockeysville and Jean Smoot of Towson; 10 other grandchildren; and six great-grandsons.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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