0

First employee hired at Citizen dies at 97

Special Photo. Former Citizen writer and the unofficial mayor of Milstead Frank Smith works at his home in this 1998 photo. Smith, who died Sunday, always wrote by typewriter and never converted over to computers.

Special Photo. Former Citizen writer and the unofficial mayor of Milstead Frank Smith works at his home in this 1998 photo. Smith, who died Sunday, always wrote by typewriter and never converted over to computers.

CONYERS -- Frank Smith, known as the unofficial mayor of Milstead and the first employee hired at the Rockdale Citizen in 1953, died Sunday at age 97.

Smith started work at Callaway Mills in Milstead in 1929 and worked his way up to chief electrician, but his life's love was writing. He wrote for the LaGrange Shuttle, a weekly company newspaper for mill employees at Manchester, LaGrange and Milstead. In 1949, he started work for the Callaway Beacon in Milstead. During that time, he also wrote for the Conyers News, at that time a sister paper to the Covington News.

Then in 1953, he received an offer from Tom Hay to work at a new publication called the Rockdale Citizen. Though he had a full-time job at the mill, Smith accepted Hay's offer.

"I was just down there because I like to write," Smith told the Citizen in 2003.

Smith worked as a staff writer and then sports editor for both the Citizen and its sister paper, The Newton Observer. For many years he got off of his job at Callaway Mills at 2 p.m. then switched hats to work at the Citizen. In the summertime, he held down a third job as a lifeguard at the Milstead Pool.

Frank used different tools to tell the stories of Rockdale County over the past 60 years -- pen, pad, typewriter and quite often a wrench to a worn out printing press at the Citizen. With Smith's mechanical background, he often worked on the old Citizen press when it was located in Olde Town Conyers.

"That old press was always breaking down," Smith said. "The gears was stripping. It was forever breaking down because it was worn out when they got it."

Smith stayed on at the Citizen until Callaway Mills closed and he went to work at the McGregor Plant in Covington. Along with the occasional column Smith also wrote several books about Milstead and Rockdale County.

Residents gave Smith the title Mayor of Milstead because of his long association with the historic mill town and his community involvement. He touched many lives with his work with the Milstead Recreation Department and Milstead Baptist Church. Donnie Smith, Frank's son-in-law, said Frank also had a side job as the local justice of the peace, and later a magistrate judge, for 29 years.

"He would say at one time he held the record in the state for marrying the most people," Donnie said. "There was a time when he could marry someone one day and then a week later sign an arrest warrant and have them locked up."

Smith had been in frail health in recent years and had spent about five months in a hospice care facility. Donnie said the family brought him home recently. He passed away Sunday after having breathing complications.

Visitation will be held today from 2 until 4 p.m. and 6 until 8 p.m. at Scot Ward Funeral Services at 699 American Legion Road, Conyers. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Milstead Baptist Church, 1613 Main St., in the Milstead Village.

Newton Citizen News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.