Dr. Carnell Ambrose Smith, Sr., whose life work was ministering, transitioned into his Heavenly Home on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a long, hard and courageous battle with cancer. Carnell was born January 4, 1950 in Beckley, West Virginia to Allison and Fannie Bertha Lee Smith, the ninth of twelve children.
He was the pastor of Gate to Heaven Ministry for twenty-one years where he and his flock labored to deliver lost sheep from a downward spiral. But truth be told, Carnell was not always a man of God. His youth was marred by the death of his mother at the hands of his father, and when he was nine years old, Carnell, along his siblings, relocated to Fort Pierce, Florida. Carnell, who was nicknamed Pete, had a hard start and rough-and-tumble times followed. He was on a downward path, getting into fights and acting out, but this was to change when he was 16 years old. Then the legendary painter Alfred Hair, married to Carnell’s sister Doretha, took him under his wings, and as Pete said, “turned my life around.” Carnell found not only a skill but also discipline and a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Alfred reached out to Carnell and he came to live with Alfred and Doretha because the couple wanted to bring structure to his life. Alfred first taught him frame making so he would have a skill. This progressed into helping Doretha and others begin the backgrounds of Alfred’s paintings. Soon, Carnell was creating his own interpretations of the Florida landscape in oils. As an aspiring artist he was no longer a wayward child of the streets getting into trouble. He had purpose and a role model in Alfred and the art-making cottage industry that formed in Ft. Pierce gave him direction. History was being made. Carnell’s mentor Alfred Hair, the central arbiter of these artists, and those he inspired would decades later would be named the Highwaymen, recognized and honored.
Based on Gary Monroe’s nomination, Alfred Hair and the Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004. Today, Carnell’s paintings, as well as others by the Highwaymen, are in art museums, government buildings and private collections across America and in other countries. Carnell has served as president of the Original Florida Hall of Fame Highwaymen Foundation for the past five years.
He is survived by his wife LaFayettra Smith along with sons, Carnell Smith Jr., (LaToya Foster) of Fort Washington, Md., Joseph Smith of Philadelphia, Pa., Demetrius Smith of Sharon Hill, Pa., Christopher Smith of Philadelphia, Pa., and; daughter Christie Smith of Jackson, Ms; sons Chad Smith of Darby, Pa, Eugene Smith of Philadelphia, Pa., William Gore of Jackson, Ms; daughters, Clarinda Squerres of Atlanta. Ga. and Chuntae Smith of Yeadon, Pa.; along with bountiful grandchildren; sisters, Christine (George) Reeves, Sarah (Thurston) Spann, Doretha Hair (John) Truesdell, Dr. Fannie Lee Lewis, JoAnn Crutchfield, Peggy McIntosh and Zenobia Green along with a host of nieces and nephews and other devoted family members and friends.
On Wednesday, December 23, 2015, for those wishing to pay their respects, please join family and friends for the viewing, which begins at noon, and the service beginning at 1:00pm, at The Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, at 305 N. 8th St., Ft. Pierce. The phone number is 772-489-0485.
Carnell Smith will then be laid to rest in Pine Grove Cemetery,