Mamie Smith’s Story

Mamie Smith. Photo by Marie Thomas
Makeup by Jonee Blair

She is a visionary, pioneer, trailblazer and motivator. At 72, Apostle Dr. Mamie J. Harris-Smith has experienced many trials and heartaches yet she refuses to be a victim. Instead, Mamie Smith is a warrior. She believes that every detour is a lesson which leads to fulfilling her destiny of serving God and walking by faith.

“There’s never been a time that  I didn’t leave her presence feeling wiser, stronger and more capable. As funny as it sounds, I always leave her presence feeling a few inches taller. Honestly, I aspire to be more like her.”   – Tracy Lott, Goddaughter

Mamie was born in Griffin, Georgia in August 1945, raised as sharecropper’s daughter along with her younger siblings Berdie and David. Hard work and church were constant.

“Ever since I can remember, we were in church,” she explains. Her stepfather taught Sunday school, and her mom served in church. It was there that Mamie began exploring her gifts.

“We had a few people in our church who could not read. So, at the age of 12, they allowed me to become the reader, where I would read the Sunday school lesson.” By age 16 she began teaching adult Sunday school.

Mamie was resourceful and hard working. She worked in the school cafeteria in order to receive free lunch. At age 13, Mamie entered a primary school oratorical contest and went on to the state level where she came in second place.

“The most amazing thing about that was my teachers invested in me,” Mamie says. They worked diligently with her and even provided her with an outfit. “I felt like I never felt before. All of sudden, I felt like I was somebody.”

Yet there was a void in Mamie’s life.  She wanted to feel loved. In high school, Mamie started dating a young man. “I was looking for love in the wrong places,” she says. “I was looking for somebody to say I love you. And when he did, I believed him.”

At 16, she became pregnant, and was terrified to tell her mother.

“My mom didn’t know how to handle the situation. It was too much for her,” Mamie recalls. Her mother believed she brought shame and disgrace to the family and needed to be removed from the home and withdrawn from school.

Mamie Smith graduates from Beulah Heights Bible College surrounded by friends and supporters.

Although Mamie Smith was hurt by her mother’s decision, ultimately, she says her mother is one of her greatest influences. “I learned a lot from her, even though she had her own issues,” Mamie states. “My mother instilled in me godly principles, faith, honesty, integrity and whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. There was nothing my mother could not do.”

Pregnant and afraid, Mamie lived with her boyfriend’s aunt. She looked forward to marrying her boyfriend. But when he graduated high school, he delivered a stinging blow – he had no intention of marrying Mamie.

“I felt the rejection,” Mamie remembers. “It was very painful, to be away from your family and being in somebody else’s house. The person that was going to make it better for you now says, ‘I don’t want you.’”

As she dealt with heartache, her friendship grew with her neighbor, Joseph Harris. Joseph was in the U.S. Navy stationed in Marietta, GA. Her boyfriend’s aunt hosted dinners, and Joseph attended.

“He was very kind to me. If he saw me working in the yard he would come and help me.”  She appreciated his assistance.

Mamie’s son Gregory was born in July of 1962. Greg’s father was no longer in the picture, but Joseph continued to support Mamie and her newborn son.

“That’s why I have a passion for the unwed mother, high school drop out and the homeless. Because I know what it’s like.”

Mamie secured a job as a sewing machine operator at Locust Grove Manufacturing Company. She made history as the first African-American hired to operate a sewing machine at American Mills in Griffin.

Mammie poses for Fayette Woman’s cover photo.
Photo by Marie Thomas
Makeup by Jonee Blair

It was a time of joy. Mamie and Joseph were married on April 4, 1964. It was also a time of pain, when Mamie lost a baby. She was devastated.

Mamie Smith became pregnant again, giving birth to a baby girl, they named her Sonya. Mamie had a full plate.  She was studying for her GED, working full-time, adjusting to being a military wife and caring for two small children. Still haunted by the loss of her baby, she reached a breaking point.

“ I felt like I was a failure,” she says. While at work, she did the unthinkable.

“I took a handful of valium and I was going to end it all. I walked out of the building to go to lunch, and I walked across the street and collapsed.”

“They took me to the hospital. I got my stomach pumped, and woke up and thought, ‘I’m still here?’.”

That was a defining moment in Mamie’s life.

“I cried out to God and asked Him to please help me.” From then on, her mission was to fulfill God’s purpose for her life.

Joseph’s next assignment was in Grosse Isle, Michigan in 1966. Their daughter, Tina, was born in the summer of 1967. Mamie received help with her children from a neighboring military wife who became her best friend for life, Alma Lowry.

“Alma was a mentor for me,” Mamie explains.” She was a classy lady and I admired those things in her. I saw how she was raising her kids, and it gave me a mirror of what I wanted my kids to be.”

“They were sisters who really came from two different parts of the world,” says Donna Lowry, Alma’s daughter.

While Mamie was learning from Alma, Donna was learning from “Aunt” Mamie.

“She was very open, very loving, very giving, and I wanted that,” Donna states, noting she admired Mamie’s “sense of adventure, her fearlessness, and her faith.”

The family moved to Rota, Spain, in 1970. Mamie applied to work on the naval base. Months passed and she wasn’t hired, despite being qualified. She noticed that no minorities were being hired. Mamie spoke up and the next week received a job offer. She worked in the Navy Exchange and at the Commissary, blazing a trail for other minorities to be hired. Mamie Smith also organized fashion shows and events for military families.

Spain was intriguing, but it was hard not seeing their family in Georgia. When Joseph was stationed in Pensacola, Florida, in 1974, they were ecstatic. There, Mamie continued her career with the Navy Exchange as first female Manager of the Navy Exchange Convenience Store at Saufley Fields. She graduated with honors in Tailoring from Begg’s Vocational school.

Donna Lowry speaks at the inaugural Christian Women’s Fellowship in March, 1987.

Despite their positive experiences, those years weren’t without tragedy. Mamie Smith’s brother, David, drowned. When Joseph retired, they decided to settle closer to family.

In summer of 1977, they made College Park, Georgia, their home. In February 1978, Mamie received a job with the United States Department of Agriculture where she served in a number of departments, including the Office of Planning and Budget, Personnel, Fiscal and Accounting, and Fire and Lands Division.

Joseph enrolled at Beulah Heights Bible College and became Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Griffin in December, 1979. Their son, Ken, was born in November, 1980.

Young Ken was sick with viral croup. His windpipe collapsed, and he struggled for years. While Ken was sick, Joseph underwent open heart surgery. It was a stressful time for Mamie. She persevered, relying on her faith in God.

In 1982, Mamie started working at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Lou Smith, Assistant Area Director later became her Supervisor.  

“She was an outstanding employee,” Lou states. “With the kind of character she had and her trustworthiness and respect, she was acknowledged in many ways.” Among them: Mamie was nominated as Federal Employee of the Year and received the United States Office of Personnel Management National Director’s Award.

Mamie Smith was adjusting to being a Pastor’s wife, finding her place in the church. “I said, ‘Lord, show me what you have for me to do.’ He began to show me how to minister to women.” Her enthusiasm was squelched when the church opposed her taking a leadership role. Yet she knew what God told her to do. In 1987, she rented a hotel and held a Christian Women’s Fellowship Breakfast.

“It was a sellout. We had to turn people away,” she states. “I realized my work would be outside the church. I started having Victorious Women Fellowship every month and a Fall Retreat once a year.”

Mamie could hardly contain her excitement, as she birthed the vision God gave her. Five years later, in May 1992, she was licensed to preach at New Hope Baptist Church, becoming the first woman to hold that license in a traditional Baptist church in Griffin. In 1996, she was ordained as a minister.

December 12, 1996, was a normal day. Mamie Smith went to work, then appointments. She hadn’t heard from Joseph all day, which was unusual. She felt God compelling her to go home. As she drove, 16-year-old Ken called her. Joseph was laying on the steps at their home, unresponsive. She arrived home to see her husband’s lifeless body.  He had suffered a massive heart attack.

“I lost my best friend,” Mamie Smith recalls. “I lost the man that believed in me. He trusted me. He encouraged me. He loved me.”

It was a searing shock that was not over.

Mamie cherishes her family time: From left: Her Husband Dwayne, Sonya, Mamie, Tina and Ken. Front row: Greg

Mamie went to the church leadership to ask what benefits she would receive as the Pastor’s widow. She was told there were none. They gave her Joseph’s last paycheck. Financial concerns now added to her burden.

She returned to her job at the Office of Personnel Management. Working at the front desk proved difficult in her grieving state. Believing that God was telling her there was something greater for her to do, Mamie resigned and never looked back.

Mamie Smith’s Women’s Fellowship continued to grow and eventually led to the birthing of New Generation Christian Fellowship Church in Griffin in 1998. Mamie moved to Fayetteville that year and enrolled at Beulah Heights Bible College in Atlanta.

“My intentions were not to pursue a degree,” she says. “I wanted to be healthy. That’s why I chose certain classes … to become a better person so I could help other people.”

“Her passion is just to develop people to the best of their ability,” says Dr. Chris Bowen, a professor at Beulah Heights Bible College. “Developing people to their fullest potential. I think that is her gift.”

Mamie honed that gift as an overseer and was ordained as an Apostle in 2002.

Mamie loves traveling and international ministry.  Mamie has traveled to Israel, Brazil, Guatemala, South Africa, Ghana, and Trinidad, among other locales, but one place affected her deeply. She met a young man from Kenya while at Beulah Heights. When he returned to Kenya, she went there to visit several times.

“That was a place that stayed on my heart. I saw the conditions there.” She continues, “God placed it in my heart to support him.” That support would fuel Mamie’s continued missionary work.

Mamie Smith often shared her hurts and victories with others. In 2007, Mamie wrote and published “Detour to Destiny.” The book is a transparent look at her trials, agonies and triumphs. She wrote it to give others hope.

“Don’t give up on your dream,” is her message.

Her prophetic words came alive in her life as well, when she received a Doctor of Divinity from St. Thomas Christian College in May 2009. There was still more to come.

Mamie met Dwayne G. Smith when she officiated his niece’s wedding in 2008. They enjoyed talking. He accompanied her to events. It was a friendship until an invitation to the movies changed everything.

“I never ever pictured myself with a preacher,” Dwayne states. “We hit it off.” They exchanged emails. And being a Distinguished Toastmaster, Dwayne has a way with words.

“He was writing me poems, every morning,” Mamie explains. “All of those little poems just melted me.” They were married in August, 2009.

“Dwayne makes me laugh,” Mamie says. “He touched a soft spot that hadn’t been touched in a long time … it gave me the balance I needed.”

Together, they support her work in Kenya where they have built a three-classroom school and planted three churches. They are presently raising funds to purchase a church van and build a fellowship hall on their visit in April of 2018.  

Mamie Smith walks by faith as she continues her Victorious Women brunches and her work in Kenya.

Her goal is to leave a legacy of touching lives, as an agent for change. She takes all she has experienced, and uses it to help others, to God’s glory.

February 13, 2018
February 13, 2018

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