Maida Pearson Smith
July 26, 1931-July 29, 2017
Maida Pearson Smith was born in Selma, Alabama on July 26, 1931 and died on July 29, 2017 at home, holding her granddaughter Anna’s hand. Visitation was held from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at Canale Funeral Directors. Funeral service were held at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at St. James Anglican Church, 461 Prescott St. Burial was held in Camden, AL at Canton Bend Methodist Church Cemetery on Friday, August 4, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. with Dunklin & Daniels Funeral Home of Camden, AL directing.
Maida Pearson Smith was a key figure in the transformation of Tennessee politics in the late twentieth century. Raised in Jackson, Alabama in the thirties and forties by an adored father who was a rare Republican in those days, Maida Smith brought a potent sense of civic duty to Memphis when she moved here with her husband, Eugene Pearson, in 1958. Beginning with the early Senate campaigns of Howard Baker and the Goldwater campaign of 1964, she was a tireless campaigner in Memphis and Germantown precincts. In and out of election years she would knock on doors with a Moon Pie-sized button that proclaimed “Hi! I’m Your Republican Neighbor”. Street by street she began the long process of moving her county and state from the solid Democrat South to the New South of Republican conservativism.
By the mid-seventies Maida Smith was President of the Shelby County Republican Women. In 1981 she won a hard-fought campaign to become the first woman to be Chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, where she served for four years in the Reagan era. She moved from that role to the Republican National Committee, where she was one of two Tennessee representatives from 1984 to 1992. Among her duties in those years was appointment as an election monitor representing the United States at the first democratic elections in Czechoslovakia and Benin, as well as to a diplomatic mission to Taiwan. In 1994, she became the first woman ever to run for Congress from the Seventh District, paving the way in a socially traditional district for its current officeholder. Thereafter she was an invaluable counselor to leaders of the Party and her home became an important stop for county and state candidates for office.
In 1954, Maida Smith was working from Memphis as a stewardess for Southern Airways when she went on a double date with a roommate. Her roommate’s date, Eugene Pearson, was more impressed with Maida than his date. He asked her out a few nights later, and after a summertime whirlwind romance they were married six months later in November, 1954. Beginning in 1956 they had, to many amused comments from their friends, five children in seven years—Malcolm, Marion, Anna, Jane, and Maida. They moved first to Germantown and then to Shelby County, where Maida raised the children while her husband operated his sawmill during the week in Clarendon, Arkansas. Eugene Pearson died in 1991. Six years later Maida married Marshall Smith of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who had been in her youth the first man to ever kiss her. Maida’s children approved of the match, saying he was from a good family. Marshall was her first cousin. They were happily married until Marshall’s death in 2013.
Maida Smith’s service to her community did not stop with politics. From leadership in her local Episcopal parish to the Memphis Opera Board to the Suburban Garden Club to positions with the Tennessee Beautiful Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission, she was a tireless worker to push forward her city and state. At the same time she led a family timber company, a fitting task for the first woman to graduate with a degree in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi. After a long career in philanthropy, the capstone to her work was leading in her mid-eighties the capital campaign to build a new campus to serve the homeless at Memphis Union Mission in downtown Memphis, a role she set aside only four months ago when its success was in sight.
Maida Pearson Smith was predeceased by her son-in-law Thomas Richard Clifton. She leaves a sister, Ann Bedsole Holmes of Mobile, Alabama. She also leaves five children: Malcolm Pearson of Huntingdon, TN, Marion Martin (Mike) of Savannah, TN, Anna Monaghan (Tim) of Charleston, SC, Jane Worsham (Pat) of Vero Beach, FL, and Maida Clifton of Memphis, TN. She leaves a daughter-in-law, Melinda Pearson of Jackson, TN. Her grandchildren are Walker Monaghan of Santa Fe, NM, Maida Monaghan of Chicago, IL, Daniel Pearson of Chattanooga, TN, Anna Pearson of Little Rock, AR, Malcolm Worsham of Vero Beach, FL, and Wesley Worsham of Vero Beach, FL.
Maida’s family especially wishes to thank her daughter, Maida Clifton, who was primary caregiver to Maida and her husband Marshall over many years. She was also attended by a devoted companion, Quin Chatman, as well as by Versie Hughes, who was with her in the night.
Maida Pearson Smith was a person of nearly boundless energy and good cheer. She was deeply engaged in the world and society around her as a duty and a joy. On July Fourth this year, her son was visiting in the afternoon. The day was cloudy and threatening rain. Late in the afternoon she said she wanted to sit on the little porch outside her bedroom and she slowly made her way there with her walker. She lay back in a porch chair and looked at her world there under the dark skies—her hydrangeas, and rose garden, and towering Oaks above them. She murmured something her son couldn’t make out, so he moved his chair closer and asked her to repeat herself. She waited a moment and then said, “I have had such a fortunate life.”
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