Thornton Beckham Smith

The Rev. Thornton Beckham Smith
& Ida Lillian Mims

1908 - 1999

The Rev. Thornton Beckham Smith and Ida Lillian Mims

Thornton Beckham Smith, the son of Whiteford Fleming Smith and Rosa Baine Thornton, was born on Monday, September 14, 1908. We had always heard that they named him Beckham after a Methodist bishop. Uncle Carlisle and Aunt Nancy were married in 1924 at Millers Methodist Church in Mullins, SC by The Rev. W. A. Beckham, a former minister at Millers Methodist Church. The Rev. Beckham was a much-beloved minister at Millers Church. Possibly he went on to become a Methodist bishop.

Thornton Smith graduated from seminary at Duke University in 1932 and became a Methodist minister, serving in rural and small town churches in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference until he retired in 1973. He died from a widespread infection (AND Mom had died 2 months earlier and he was ready to join her in heaven) on Thursday, October 14, 1999 at The Methodist Oaks in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and was buried on Saturday, October 16, 1999 in the cemetery at Bethel United Methodist Church in the Bend of Four Hole Swamp, Dorchester County, South Carolina.

Ida Lillian Mims, the daughter of Sidney Wells Mims Sr. and Cornelia Bishop, was born on February 5, 1924 in The Bend of Four Hole Swamp. She attended Lander College for a year - taking the usual 1st year courses along with secretarial courses, and studying music. In October of her second year, she and Thornton Smith were married - thus ending her college studies. Her career was as a minister's wife (assistant) and as a church musician. She was often called upon to play the piano in churches.

Ida Lillian Mims Smith died of cancer on Friday, August 13, 1999 in Roper Hospital, Charleston, South Carolina. She was buried next to her husband and two still-born sons in the cemetery at Bethel United Methodist Church in Dorchester County, South Carolina.

The family of The Rev. Thornton Beckham Smith and Ida Lillian Mims

Ida Lillian SmithThornton Beckham Smith and Ida Lillian Mims were married on Sunday, October 5, 1941 in the Methodist parsonage in Hampton, South Carolina. His brother The Rev. Carlisle Smith performed the marriage. Their plan was to leave the Indian Field Campground near St. George, SC where the annual campmeeting was being held, and travel to Hampton to get married. The only person in their church that knew of their plans was the lay leader who was to lead the next Sunday's services for him while they were on their honeymoon.

On their honeymoon, they drove from the LowCountry of South Carolina down to St. Augustine, Florida. On the trip back, they continued up the coast almost to the North Carolina border before coming back home to Harleyville, South Carolina. Their week-long honeymoon cost them $74. She kept a running record of all of their expenses - from gas, food, and motel/hotel rooms to a pack of chewing gum and Peter Paul Mounds.

Thornton and Ida Lillian Smith had six (6) children:

Thornton Beckham married Ida Lillian Mims and they had six (6) children. three (3) sons and three (3) daughters. The first two (2) sons were still-born.

Ida Jeannette Smith (7 Aug 1942-27 Jul 2013)
1st son, still-born (21 Feb 1945) - David Thornton Smith
2nd son, still-born (25 Oct 1946) - Michael Stephen Smith
2nd daughter (living)
Rebecca C. Smith (living)
3rd son (living)

Their first two sons who were listed as "still-born"

The short version of the story is that their first two sons were still-born. The more complete version is as follows:

With their first son, Mom started feeling labor pains on a Sunday afternoon. They called the doctor who was busy playing golf and didn't want to stop. He told her to wait until the next day. The baby was moving around on Sunday. By Monday he had stopped moving, and was born dead. The doctor told them that the baby had been dead for a long time. Mom told him that he was moving around the day before the delivery. He told her that she imagined it.

Their second son was born alive, but the nurse accidently dropped him on his head while assisting in the birth. They told her that the baby was born dead and that she imagined the rest.

Many years later I was talking with one of my sisters (M), and told her that I had thought of names for our first two brothers - names that Dad and Mom might have named them. In the days when our first two brothers were born and died, babies who were "still-born" weren't usually named. For my own sense of closure on these two unknown brothers, I felt the need to give them names.

David Thornton Smith was the first son/brother. Mom told us that they almost named our youngest brother David Thornton Smith.

Michael Stephen Smith was the second son/brother. "Stephen", after all, was a traditional family name in the Smith family. "Michael" just seemed like a good first name in combination with "Stephen".

My sister "M's" reaction was, "Those are the names that I thought of too". It seemed good that we separately picked out the same names. I shared this with Mom one day years ago. She just smiled and said nothing. We don't know if they had thought of different names for them in the months before they were born (and died), or not. In retrospect, I wish that I had thought to ask what names they had picked out prior to those two days that she went into labor.

I have listed our names for them in the section above because I believe that no baby who died at birth (or shortly afterwards) is a nameless child in God's eyes. These names, and possibly more, have been given to these two children.

Appointments served by The Rev. Thornton Beckham Smith in the South Carolina Methodist Conference (later the SC United Methodist Conference)

These are his appointments and dates, along with the dates of his journey toward becoming an elder in full connection - as listed in "United Methodist Ministers in South Carolina" (Bicentennial Edition, 1985):

  • May 3, 1933 Licensed to preach
  • November 13, 1938 Ordained deacon
  • November 17, 1940 Ordained elder
  • November 13, 1938 Received into full connection
  • 1936-1939 Liberty Charge
  • 1939-1940 Bowman Charge
  • 1940-1942 Harleyville Charge (Harleyville, Bethel, Duncan)
  • 1942-1943 Olar Charge
  • 1943-1946 Lake View Charge
  • 1946-1949 McBee Charge
  • 1949-1953 Pamplico Charge
  • 1953-1957 Ridgeland (St. Paul Meth)
  • 1957-1961 Johnston-Harmony Charge
  • 1961-1967 Swansea Charge (Oak Grove, Calvary, Swansea)
  • 1967-1968 Edisto Circuit, Cope, SC
  • 1968-1972 Summerville Circuit, Knightsville, SC (Knightsville, Boone Hill)
  • 1972-1973 Mt. Pleasant, Pomaria, SC
  • June 5, 1973 Retired

The Rev. Thornton Beckham Smith served on the following committees in the South Carolina Methodist/United Methodist Conference:

  • 1939-1941 Assistant Conference Statistician
  • 1944-1947 Board of Ministry Training
  • 1949-1951 Committee - World Peace
  • 1952 Who's Who in Methodism
  • 1952-1956 Board of Hospitals and Homes
  • 1956-1959 Committee - Insurance
  • 1956-1964 Trustee - Methodist Home, Orangeburg, SC (The Methodist Oaks)
  • 1956 Evangelistic Team to Cuba
  • 1958 & 1962 Delegate - National Convention - Hospitals & Homes
  • 1960-1961 Secretary - committee involving the Methodist Home in Orangeburg
  • 1964 South Carolina Rural Minister of the Year
  • 1966-1970 Town & Country Commission
  • 1967 Delegate - National Meeting Consultation of Ecumenicity

Their dream house - Sassafras Hill

Upon his retirement from the appointment system in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference, Thornton and Ida Lillian Smith moved to what was to become the family home, the dream house that he planned over the years and which the two of them helped build, near Walnut Creek, Dorchester County, South Carolina. For years one of his pass-times in the evening was to work on floor plans for their retirement home. So, of course, we as children could occasionally be found drawing up our own floor plans for our "dream houses".

The finishing touches on the Smith home were completed in late 1973. Between June of that year (Methodist ministers' moving time in South Carolina) and the completion of the new family home, they stayed at the home of Sidney and Cornelia Mims (her parents). The new home was affectionately named "Sassafras Hill" because of all the sassafras bushes on the hill where the house is located. They even had stationery and envelopes made (designed by their oldest daughter) with the Sassafras Hill logo. During the first few years at "Sassafras Hill", it was not uncommon for the smell of sassafras bark drying out in the oven to pervade the entire house. Letters sent to her children sometimes included a few pieces of dried sassafras bark to make a cup or two of sassafras tea. Even if I hadn't seen the return address, I would have been able to tell who sent the letter. I occasionally enjoyed fixing a cup at work and watching the puzzled expressions of fellow workers as they glanced at my cup of steeping tea with pieces of "wood" floating on the top.

Biographies included in the Conference Journal for the year 2000 -

Thornton Beckham Smith and Ida Lillian Mims Smith

After their deaths in 1999, I was asked by the South Carolina United Methodist Conference to write brief biographies for Dad and Mom to be included (along with biographies of other ministers/spouses who had died in 1999) in the conference journal for the year 2000.. They asked me because I was ordained as an elder in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference and received into full connection in the conference on May 31, 1983. Following are the biographies that were included in that journal.

* * * * * * *

Thornton Beckham Smith
September 14, 1908 – October 14, 1999

Thornton Beckham Smith was born the son of Rosa Baine Thornton and Whiteford Fleming Smith, and the grandson of Stephen Whiteford Smith who was in the SC House of Representatives. Historically his family has been active in the Methodist Episcopal Church at least as far back as the early 1800's. They were instrumental in the development of their hometown Mullins and Millers Church in which we, as his children, have felt welcomed as daughters/son of the church.

The two people most influential in his early life and ministry were his grandfather and his mother. After receiving his call to the ministry, he attended Duke Divinity School while working part-time in various jobs to help support his family. While attending Duke, Thornton Smith had the opportunity to sing with the Duke Chorale in Carnegie Hall. Later his son Thornton Sidney also became a part of the Duke Chorale while attending Duke University.

After being appointed in 1936 to Liberty and then to Bowman, Rev. Smith was appointed to what is now the Bethel-Duncan charge. It was here that he met, courted, and married Ida Lillian Mims, a member of Bethel Church who was a college student at the time. We often heard stories of how he would make "pastoral visits" to see her in the days when students had to have chaperones for their dates. To get past the rules, she would sign out to visit relatives in a different area of the state. Then they would drive in that direction until lunchtime, eat a lunch of hotdogs and Peter Paul Mounds, and drive back to Lander College.

Thornton Smith dedicated his ministry to the churches in small towns and rural areas of the state, helping them to grow in their sense of ministry and, as the need arose, in expanding their church buildings. As such he was named Rural Minister of the Year by Progressive Farmer and Candler School of Theology in 1964, and was given the opportunity to participate in a year-long Special Study at Emory University. He was a good storyteller with a quiet sense of humor, both as a preacher in sharing the Gospel message and in making up children's stories for us – J., M., R., and S.

Rev. Smith was instrumental, as a member of the Board of Trustees - Methodist Home for eight years, in locating the present land on which The Methodist Oaks was built near Orangeburg, and focusing key persons on its availability. He often talked of the strong feelings that he had of the importance of having a retirement/nursing home in the lower part of our state, in case he and/or others needed it later. Both he and his older brother Rev. Carlisle Smith became residents there in later life.

In 1956 he served with an evangelistic team whose mission took place in Cuba, before Castro became its dictator. He came back telling us stories of the people and places, the homes he visited, sermons that he and others preached with interpreters accompanying them. He also talked of their food, particularly the ice cream that was wonderful.

Rev. Thornton Smith's life and ministry, along with his wife Ida Lillian, have given us (his children) a sense of having family and friends within the various churches of the state. Even though we as ministers and ministers' families are traditionally in any given church and community for only a few years at the most, we become a part of each other's lives in a way that will remain with us forever - like a tapestry into which new threads of memories and relationships are constantly being woven. To me, this is a part of the connectedness that is important within the United Methodist Church in our districts, our South Carolina Conference, and around the country and the world.

Rebecca C. Smith

* * * * * * *

Ida Lillian Mims Smith
February 5, 1924 - August 13, 1999

It has been said of one of the earlier First Ladies that her upbringing as a "preacher's kid", with the social responsibilities of the minister's family in those days, prepared her for her role as First Lady of the United States. Ida Lillian Mims grew up as a "farmer's kid", the grand-daughter of Cyrus Mims who was in the S.C. House of Representatives, and the daughter of master farmer Sidney Wells Mims Sr. Historically the Mims family has also been very active in the building of and in the leadership of Bethel United Methodist Church near Dorchester, SC. That and the way that her mother and grandmother presided over their household, and their tradition of Sunday dinners with 15-20 guests and family members, similarly gave her an upbringing that prepared her for her role and ministry as a minister's wife.

While attending her first year at Lander College, Ida Lillian (as she was known to her family) came home for Thanksgiving weekend. According to the family story she had also heard that there was a new minister at Bethel Church who was single and good-looking. After the Sunday service for which she played, the minister came to their home for dinner with the regular invitation. At some point during the meal, Grandmother Ida asked Rev. Smith if he would like some sugar for his tea. He replied with a twinkle in his eye, "No, thank you. I'll just get Ida Lillian to stick her finger in it." When they married, he was thirty-three (33) years old and she was almost eighteen (18). Her ministry was one for which she unknowingly prepared as a child, and into which she grew as a young woman and a bride.

Ida was often the first person with whom someone in crisis talked when they called the parsonage to speak to Rev. Smith, and often accompanied him when he visited parishioners at home or in the hospital. She entertained informally in the parsonage on a regular basis, teaching us how to balance privacy in our home with hospitality in sharing it as a "gift in trust" with others. She taught us how to be gracious in giving and in receiving. As an accomplished musician who began playing for church at the age of eight (8), she was often called upon to substitute for services, and while serving in Swansea she became the regular accompanist at one of the churches that had no musician within the church family. A lesser-known talent of Ida Lillian was as a hymn-writer. While preparing for her funeral we located one of her hymns. The Rev. R. L. quoted it during the service. We have since located a second hymn. The following is an example.

"The Way That He Loves"
by Ida Lillian Mims Smith

The way that he loves is as fair as the day
That blesses my way with light.
The way that he loves is as soft as the breeze
Caressing the trees at night.
So tender and precious is he.
Contented with Jesus I'll be.
The way that he loves is so thrilling because
His love reaches even me.

The way that he loves is as deep as the sea.
His spirit shall be my stay.
The way that he loves is as pure as a rose,
Much sweeter he grows each day.
His peace hovers near like a dove.
I know there's a heaven above.
To Jesus I'll cling. Life's a wonderful thing
Because of the way that he loves.

Rebecca C. Smith