Pat Smith traveled to Gulfport, Miss., more than half a dozen times this summer to do the prep work necessary to build 13 Habitat for Humanity houses for people displaced last year by Hurricane Katrina.
And he wanted his friends to go to Gulfport over Thanksgiving.
He thought it would be fun to stay at the Salvation Army, sleep on cots and work on houses, his sister, Agnes “Porky” Littrell, said with a chuckle.
Smith, 58, organized the project, but didn’t live to see it completed.
He was on his way to Gulfport when he was killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 on Aug. 27.
But family, friends and neighbors wanted to carry out his idea for a Thanksgiving build.
Before dawn Saturday, the first of dozens of Central Kentuckians piled into their cars and headed to Gulfport. By Wednesday, an anticipated 125 adults and children from Kentucky will be working hard to complete the 13 houses.
The goal is to have the houses all dedicated on Dec. 9, Smith’s widow, Jean, said by telephone yesterday from Gulfport. Former President Jimmy Carter will be there for the dedication, she said.
On Friday, Littrell’s house was a buzz of activity as friends Fra Vaughan and Debbie Salyer arrived to check last-minute details.
Jennifer Combs, Smith’s daughter, brought 13 large housewarming baskets for the 13 Habitat homeowners, filled with cleaning supplies, Christmas wreaths and ornaments, and “Welcome Home” signs. The baskets were filled with donations from families in the Porter Memorial Baptist Church preschool.
Combs said that last year, on the day after Thanksgiving, she and her father left for southern India. Under his leadership, Habitat volunteers, many from Kentucky, built 26 houses in fishing villages leveled by the tsunami of 2004.
Combs and her mother were in Lonavala, India, from Oct. 26 through Nov. 5 this year, working on Habitat houses with Carter.
Along the Gulf Coast are scenes of devastation where little seems changed since Katrina blasted ashore 15 months ago, said Littrell, who was there on Oct. 22, Pat Smith’s birthday, for Habitat. “You wouldn’t think, one year later in the United States, that things would still be in that shape.”
The Mississippians are all first-time homeowners, Littrell said.
At 6 p.m. yesterday, volunteers were scheduled to gather at the temporary Salvation Army headquarters for a Habitat orientation.
Work starts at 8 this morning, Jean Smith said.
It makes volunteers feel good to work on a Habitat house, Vaughan said. “The people who get the houses are so appreciative.”
Friends will remember Smith’s infectious laugh, his schoolboy grin with a gap between his front teeth, and his passion for Habitat. They’ll be doing something he tried to get them to do in his particularly charming way -- build Habitat houses.
“This project was real important to Pat,” his widow said.
On Thursday, the workers will eat Thanksgiving dinner in a Salvation Army tent set up in a football stadium. H.C. Baker of Louisville and several friends will cook. Baker made Thanksgiving dinner for Kentuckians on Smith’s India project last year.
“I think it will be a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving,” Salyer said.
Smith’s daughter said her family has talked about making a Habitat build a Thanksgiving tradition.