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Mary Smartt could almost always be found in her “office.” The wife of key PCA founding member Kennedy Smartt, Mary spent hours on the sofa in her living room — a spot her family fondly came to know as her “office” — pouring over Scriptures or writing letters to friends across the country.
“I have received cards from people all over the country, at least 140 or 150,” says Kennedy Smartt. “I don’t know anyone in today’s world who wrote as many letters as Mary. And they weren’t one-page letters either. She would write four-to-five page letters.”
And she loved receiving letters just as much as she enjoyed writing them.
“One of her greatest joys, which she couldn’t wait to get back to every day, was to go through cards and letters and photos and talk to God about the people she loved,” said son Danny at her memorial service. “In those times, all the barriers that separate people would melt away — I mean death and distance, age, race, gender, social station, everything. Her heart became one big, transcendent foretaste of heaven.”
This bigness of heart, this kindness, this presence still seems to fill the house that she shared with Kennedy in Chestnut Mountain, Ga.
“I still tiptoe around the house early in the morning to keep from waking her up,” Kennedy admits.
“I Was Impressed”
Kennedy first set eyes on Mary Van Voorhis in 1947. A recent college graduate and WWII veteran, Kennedy had taken a construction job at Peniel Bible Conference in New York’s Adirondacks. Mary, a college student studying education, had grown up attending the camp and was there that summer as well.
“When I arrived at the conference, the first person I met was Mary. … I was very impressed,” he says, then adds, “although I’m not sure she was impressed with me. I was driving an old, beat-up Model A Ford.”
The following week, he spied her again, this time in the dining hall. That’s when he heard the voice he credits to God, There is the girl that you’re supposed to marry.
Five years later, he did.
During the next 62 years, Mary supported Kennedy through various ministry transitions, first to Scottdale, Ga., where he served at Ingleside Presbyterian Church in his first pastorate, then on to Hopewell, Va., where he was West End Presbyterian Church’s pastor for 15 years,and then to Atlanta for the birthing of the PCA in 1973 and Kennedy’s roles as coordinator of church relations for the newly formed Mission to the World (MTW) and later as director of evangelism for Mission to North America (MNA).
In the early days of Kennedy’s ministry, Mary was busy raising four children, but she still found time to teach a Bible class to more than 100 ladies.
“She was the pastor to those ladies,” Kennedy explains. “They came to her as much — or more — than they sought me out.”
Protecting the Ministry at 4 a.m.
At the same time, Mary was firmly in Kennedy’s corner.
“She was 100 percent on my team. That didn’t mean that if I got out of line, she wouldn’t lovingly correct me. For instance, if I was flirting with a pretty woman, she had a way of letting me know that that wasn’t a wise policy to follow,” Kennedy explains. “I always respected her rebuke, because it was given out of kindness and love. She wasn’t jealous; she was protecting my ministry.”
Kennedy believes she was protecting him every morning at 4, when she woke for her personal quiet times with God.
“She learned the habit at Peniel. If you really wanted to walk with God, you had to have an early morning quiet time. She was always up before the first child, praying for me and my ministry.”
After the Smartts’ youngest daughter went off to college, Mary had more time to travel with Kennedy on his church circuit with MNA. After many of his speaking engagements, Kennedy would often receive gentle advice and counsel from his wife on how best to communicate his message.
“She was always improving my ministry at almost every stop we made,” he says. “She could correct me and do it in such a way that it was like a doctor giving me a painkiller.”
Always Digesting the Word
Three years ago, Mary was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that eventually claimed her life.
She continued writing letters up until a year before she died. But even in that last year, she didn’t abandon her “office.” She was still there every day, spending hours in the Word of God, taking notes in the margins and filling journals with her observations.
Recently, Kennedy picked up her journal and began reading through it.
“It’s all pages of what God was saying to her that day. I have never known anyone who digested the Word of God the way she did.”
Her place on the couch has been cold for more than a month now, but Kennedy is warmed as he remembers the gift that Mary was — and still is — to him.
“Mary has truly been the treasure of my life. God’s richest blessing upon me. I haven’t needed possessions. I’ve had Mary.”
Kennedy Smart is one of the PCA’s founding members. After pastoring three churches, he served in various key roles in the denomination’s early days, including coordinator of church relations for MTW and director of evangelism for Mission to North America. He is the author of I Am Reminded: An Autobiographical, Anecdotal History of the Presbyterian Church in America. Kennedy also served as moderator of the PCA General Assembly and of Georgia Foothills Presbytery. He and Mary have four children and eight grandchildren. He currently serves as chaplain to the community for Chestnut Mountain PCA in Flowery Branch, Ga.