Pete Smith was born near the intersection of what are now Barrett and Dorsey Peek roads in 1924. On Friday, he celebrated his 90th birthday only 3 miles away at the same place he has worked for the past two decades, the Hall County compactor site on Poplar Springs Road.
“I like working here,” he said. “It gets me out, so I don’t have to sit around at home.
“I don’t have to work here, but what little money I make, I enjoy buying what I want with it.”
Smith grew up as the son of sharecroppers and spent most of his life in Hall County. During this time, he has seen population increases, economic depressions and recoveries and technological advancements.
“Growing up, we had to grow everything we had to put on the table, except for meat and sugar,” Smith said. “It was a good, clean life, but nobody had anything.
“There were very, very few people in the county back then. It was a mile or two before you got to your neighbor’s house.”
When he was 19 years old, Smith joined the U.S. Navy and fought in World War II. During his service, he escorted convoys of troops, supplies and prisoners. While he was on a destroyer escort in 1945 off the coast of Rhode Island, he witnessed the sinking of the last German submarine just days before that country surrendered.
Smith also helped save the life of a German prisoner who had suffered a burst appendix. Smith transported the man to another ship to receive treatment from a doctor.
“He laid down there about three weeks in our bay when we were coming back,” he said. “We had to guard him.”
A few years ago, Smith received a letter from the man’s daughter expressing the family’s appreciation for the assistance.
After the war, Smith met and married his wife, Juanita. The couple had five children, most of whom live in Hall County, before she died in 2002 from ovarian cancer.
“Juanita and I had a good life,” Smith said. “A poor life, a hard life, but a good life.”
In 1989, Smith retired from a career with Johnson & Johnson, where he inspected cloth products such as gauze and Band-Aids for defects.
“When I retired, I asked the Lord to give me two years to do what I wanted to do, and he did,” Smith said. “I came to work for Hall County at the compactor and I’ve been here ever since.”
Smith has worked for the county for 22 years and remains one of the county’s oldest and most senior employees. He said he plans to work there “until the good Lord calls me home.”