Mildred James Cross Smith

Photo of Mildred James Cross Smith
MILDRED JAMES CROSS SMITH, 100, died peacefully in her sleep at Arkansas Hospice in Little Rock on July 1, 2019. She was born on July 22, 1918, at Pendleton Plantation in Desha County, Arkansas, to Clay Rice Cross and Victoria Goree Cross. The cause of death was an accidental fall resulting in a hip fracture, leading to acute kidney failure. She was predeceased by her parents, three sisters and one brother. Her husband, prominent attorney, Griffin Smith passed away in 2000. Mildred assisted him in producing dozens of shows for the biennial GRIDIRON, a musical spoof of law and politics presented by the Pulaski Bar Association. After Mildred's parents married in 1911, they moved to Pendleton Plantation in the tiny community of Pendleton, 11 miles NE of Dumas, Ark. The newlyweds lived with Clay's parents, Col. and Mrs. Clay Cross, his grandmother and older brother, Flournoy. The following year, they welcomed their first child, Mollie. Four more children followed in rapid succession: Victoria, Clay, jr., Mildred and Camille. All the Cross children were born at home. Life was pretty idyllic for Mildred growing up with four siblings, farm animals all around and sister Mollie's shetland pony named Prince. The farm was too far from Dumas and the roads often impassable for them to attend the local school, so Mildred's mother hired a teacher who lived with them part of the year. A seamstress arrived for a month each spring and fall to make their clothes, even their undergarments. Mildred's happy life came to an end in April, 1927, when the Great Flood came pouring down the Mississippi River and backed up water up the Arkansas and White rivers, flooding the eastern third of the state. Worried that the levee would break at Pendleton, Mr. Cross put his wife and three younger children on a boat with nothing but four hastily packed suitcases, and they floated down the Arkansas River bound for Rosedale, Miss. Mildred remembered that while on the trip some sort of plane flew over the boat and dropped a note on the deck with news that the levee at Pendleton had broken. What Mildred did not know was that the home in which she had been born was gone forever. Also flooded were the barns, the animals, the cabins and the gins. Her father's flooded fields would be slow to recover. Cotton would not be planted that spring. Months later when the water subsided, it was discovered that even the channel of the river had changed. Her father stayed on the levee with his stranded workers. In Rosedale, the family boarded a train for Memphis. Mollie and Victoria were students at Mississippi Synodical College in Holly Springs, Miss. and soon joined them in Memphis. Mildred once said that her father had given her mother undeposited checks that he had received as payments for her to cash in Memphis. However, banks in Memphis were not accepting any checks from people fleeing flooding waters. Local friends loaned Mrs. Cross money until other arrangements could be made. Eventually, rail service was restored between Memphis and Pine Bluff, and the family moved to Pine Bluff for a year. There was nothing to return to in Pendleton. Mildred's father built a new home in Desha County, and the children enrolled in the Dumas schools. When Mildred was 14, her father died prematurely. His wife believed that he never recovered from the shock and stress of the flood and its aftermath. During Mildred's senior year at Dumas High, where she was crowned Homecoming Queen, her mother decided that the family would move to Fayetteville. Mollie and Victoria were already students at the University of Arkansas, and son Clay was about to enroll. It made economic sense for the family to be together in Fayetteville and let her brother-in-law Flournoy run the farm. Mildred was saddened at leaving Dumas but within a couple of weeks at Fayetteville high school, she reveled in being the "new girl in town." In fact, the president of the senior class asked her to walk in the senior procession with him. Her popularity continued when she enrolled at the University in 1934 at age 16. Following in her sisters' footsteps, Mildred pledged Chi Omega. During her four years at the university, she accumulated many accolades including Five Most Beautiful Girls, ROTC Regimental Sponsor, Razorback Beauty, vice-president of the Junior Class and president of Chi Omega. She was also a member of the 10 o'clock Club, Rootin' Rubes, Lambda Tau, the Pan-Hellenic Council and the Women's League. Her degree was in education, and she was an honor student. For the Sugar Bowl Game in New Orleans in 1937, J. C. Futrall, the president of the University of Arkansas, selected her to represent the University of Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl Court. On Oct. 8, 1938, Mildred married Griffin Smith jr., the son of Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Griffin Smith and his wife, Amelia Daggett Smith. Griffin jr. graduated from the law school at the University of Arkansas in 1941, welcomed a new son and began a law practice with the Williamson firm in Monticello. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist in the military. Because he was a lawyer, the government preferred that he join the FBI. After he received his training, Mildred and young Griffin joined him in New York City, where he allegedly "pursued Russian spies." The family lived in an apartment in Jackson Heights in Queens, and Mildred enjoyed life as a stay-at-home wife and mother. Occasionally, the Smiths would take the subway into the city for a Broadway show. The war years in New York imbedded in the Smiths a love of theater and musicals. They later would visit London each year in February and October as well as return many times to New York. After the war ended, they moved to Little Rock and settled into a new life with a young son and a baby on the way. Griffin continued with the FBI for a couple of years in Little Rock and then practiced law until his retirement in 2000. Mildred loved being a wife and mother. She was an accomplished seamstress, knitter and embroiderer. Her children — and her husband — were always impeccably dressed. She was active in the PTAs of Forest Park, Forest Heights Junior High and Hall High. She was a member of the Junior League of Little Rock, the Little Rock Aesthetic Club, the Sewing Club, the Second Friday Book Club and the County Club of Little Rock. One of the Smiths' legacies are the years that they worked with the biennial Pulaski County Bar Association Gridiron Show. Griffin was a producer or co-producer for 30+ years. Mildred directed costumes and offered unsolicited advice when needed. Many of the songs they heard in London and New York made their way into the Gridirons. Mildred is survived by her son, Griffin Smith, former executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and his wife Libby of Little Rock; and her daughter, Dr. Leslie Cunningham and her husband John of Santa Fe, N.M. She also survived by two grandchildren, Alexander and Sofie Cunningham; niece, Donna Bates and her husband Joe of Little Rock; Dr. Bill Dudney and his wife Lisa of Tampa, Fla.; and Vicki Tarpley Logan and her husband Kent of Scottsdale, Ariz. A great-niece survives her: Samantha Cross of Little Rock and her daughters, Camilla and Isabel. Special thanks to caregiver and friend, Verline Coleman, and friend Jo Ann Talbert. Interment at Roselawn Cemetery will be private. Funeral will be July 11, at 2 pm, at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, with Associate Pastor Alisa Seacrest, officiating. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Mildred's name to Second Presbyterian Church, Pastoral Care & Fellowship, 600 Pleasant Valley Dr., Little Rock, Ark. 72227, or Arkansas Hospice, 14 Parkstone Cr., North Little Rock, Ark. 72116. Arrangements are under the direction of Ruebel Funeral Home,

Published July 10, 2019

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