Pat Smith traveled to Ghana, West Africa, in 1997 to build houses for Habitat for Humanity and he was deeply touched by the experience. "You can't help but fall in love with the people. They're just wonderful," he said in an interview later.
And it helped Smith embrace the universality of people: "It just hits you. We're all alike. We're all human beings. They got dealt a bad hand. It's a poor country. No natural resources. We have an obligation to help."
Smith, Habitat's national Volunteer of the Year in 2004, was among those killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 yesterday.
Smith, 58, was on his way back to Gulfport, Miss., on a Kentucky Habitat for Humanity project to build 13 houses on the Gulf Coast for people displaced last year by Hurricane Katrina.
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Since the project launched in early August, Smith had made seven trips to Mississippi "to do all the prep work to get things organized," said his son Brian Smith. Pat Smith came home Tuesday and was going back yesterday.
Smith, a long time Habitat volunteer, headed up several Habitat projects in Ghana sponsored by his church, Cathedral of Christ the King. He also built Habitat houses in Sri Lanka and India, where he helped organize the rebuilding effort. His wife, Jean, went along on most projects.
Between October and the end of December, 80 volunteers from Kentucky, under Smith's leadership, completed 26 houses in Muzhukkuthurai and other fishing villages in southern India leveled by the tsunami in 2004.
"He connected with everybody. It didn't matter your personality, your age. He got everybody involved in these projects and made sure everybody had a good time," said his son-in-law Steve Combs.
Habitat touched Smith's heart because "he loved helping other people and inspiring others to do good works," Combs said. He chuckled as he remembered Smith's disarming way of getting people involved.
"He'd call and say, 'Hey, what are you doing next week? You're not busy, are you?'" Combs said.
Grant Phelps, executive director of Lexington Habitat, where Smith served on the board, said Smith had the vision and energy to get projects organized. "I'd pick up the phone and he'd say, 'OK, here's my next idea,'" Phelps said.
Smith was a partner in Versa Tech Automation, a Lexington industrial automation company that worked with area factories and had military contracts at the Army depot in Anniston, Ala., his son said.
"I can't believe this lovely man is gone, a good, good man who did so much for the world," said Jean Brewer, a friend who had dinner with Smith on Saturday night. "The world is a darker place because he is not here."