Remembering Smitty

by Laura Johnston Kohl

Walter “Smitty” Jones and Grace Jones had been married for more than 35 years when he died on June 21, 2013. Smitty stayed faithfully by Grace’s side during her most trying times, in the early years of their relationship, as she fought for custody of her son, John. Just as faithfully, she stood with him during his difficult last few months.

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Walter was a man of such great character! He did whatever it took to support Grace in being the most courageous person I know, but he also maintained his own strength and individuality throughout the relationship. He was born to be a hands-on guy, whether it was working to set up electrical services in Jonestown during the time I first knew him, or spending his post-Temple career as a mechanic. Among his many interesting and heavy-duty jobs, he once worked pouring cement at Niagara Falls and loved it. He thrived doing these things that he cherished, and was passionate about creating beautiful things.

A rare quality that I saw in Smitty was his genuine appreciation of everyone’s uniqueness. He was comfortable with himself – who he was, what he did, what his opinions were, and how he behaved. He never tried to show off, although he was wonderfully talented. He was content and at peace with himself. I never saw him judge or demean anyone, ever. He had a ready smile and handshake, even a hug. He really was a solid block of goodness.

In Smitty’s last days, Stephan Jones, Jordan Vilchez, Linda Mertle, and Yulanda Williams came by frequently to help in any way they could. Many others who had been with Grace and Smitty in Peoples Temple and afterwards, stopped by as well. I think they were both surprised by the unsolicited support. Yet, unquestionably, they would each have been the first ones to step in to help anyone else facing such a crisis.

The graciousness and generosity of spirit shown by Grace was evident in all parts of Smitty’s memorial service. There was beautiful and fun music, and there were thoughtful poems. Grace embraced all of her history with Smitty, and included every part of their lives together in a delightful Powerpoint presentation. Former Peoples Temple members were just a part of the mosaic of the ceremony. Yulanda sang a song that Grace had chosen. Stephan spoke eloquently to Grace during the ceremony, Tim Stoen spoke of Walter’s character, and Yulanda read a poem and spoke also. Jordan, Linda, Johnny Cobb, Teresa Cobb, Jim Cobb, Mickey Touchette, Jim Randolph, and I were also there to represent the Temple family. It was yet another event that we wouldn’t have wanted to miss. We all hugged and shared our love with Grace, and with their two wonderful children, Alex and Jenny. Smitty definitely had a rousing send off.

(Laura Johnston Kohl is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition include Who Suffered The Most?, Transition of Leadership in Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians, and Synanon, A Further Legacy Of Peoples Temple, Johnny Moss Brown: A Born Leader, PJ and the American Theater Company, In Remembrance of June Crym Adams, and Peoples Temple Oral History Project Gets Underway. Her previous writings appear here. She can be reached at ljohnstonkohl@gmail.com.

(The website for Laura’s book Jonestown Survivor is here. Her work with the book has resulted in travel around the country to many universities, libraries, and other venues doing presentations. She also traveled to Mexico City in June and did several book presentations in both English and Spanish. She also appeared on The Ricki Lake Show in May. After several years of presenting papers to the Communal Studies Association, she recently joined its board of directors.

(An extensive interview with Laura appeared in the February 22 edition of The Western Front, the news service of Western Washington University.)

Last modified on May 20th, 2014.
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