For some 75 years, wherever he went, Brigadier Luther Smith was the face of The Salvation Army. A recipient of the Order of the Founder in 2010, Smith wore his uniform with pride, projecting a warmth and spirit of caring that personified the highest ideals of Salvationism. In an interview with a reporter for his hometown Birmingham, Alabama, newspaper, he said, “It’s a nice feeling when you walk the streets of Birmingham, or any other street, in a Salvation Army uniform –– that makes a statement. It makes one statement which I like: If you have problems, somebody you want to talk to, I’m a listener.”
Luther Smith’s 96 years encompassed a full and active lifestyle. He was a licensed pilot and when he was not airborne, he loved riding his Harley–Davidson motorcycle. Commissioned in 1936, he served in appointments across the Southern Territory and in Mexico City. He worked in several major disasters. As a corps officer in Birmingham during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, he went against the wishes of his local advisory board and offered the corps as a sleeping place for the Freedom Riders as they passed through the city in 1961. Later, he would spend the last nine years of his active officership in Birmingham as the area commander. He was president of the Birmingham chapter of the Kiwanis Club, a member of the city’s Police Advisory Committee and a founding member of the Birmingham Race Relations Committee.
Following his retirement in 1979, Brigadier Smith’s pace slowed only imperceptibly, if at all. He continued to work three days a week into his 90s. He was a fixture at United Way events in Birmingham, worked closely with the local advisory board and was often seen visiting ailing friends and neighbors who were hospitalized. In 1996, he was one of 60 individuals from Birmingham selected to run as a torchbearer for the Centennial Summer Olympics. He was 81 at the time and completed his portion of the route without difficulty.
In May 2010, the Birmingham Area Command held its annual civic dinner. Brigadier Smith was of course present and a key participant in the program. Late in the program a special presentation was made, and the face of The Salvation Army in Birmingham became the 13th Salvationist from the Southern Territory to receive the organization’s highest honor, the Order of the Founder.
By Dan Childs