A little more than a year after former McCracken County Engineer Buddy Smith died, the community that reaped the benefits of his expertise unveiled a fitting memorial to him.
As cars whooshed down U.S. 45, officials on Wednesday unveiled a marker designating the portion of the road starting at Lone Oak First Baptist Church and ending at the Graves County line as the Buddy Smith Highway. The McCracken County native, who died last July at the age of 80, spent more than 30 years working for the interests of his county and state.
"Buddy Smith was the most intelligent, hard-working, tenacious advocate for this community. We wouldn't have near as many projects done, and all the roads that we have, without Buddy Smith," Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, said during the ceremony.
Granddaughter Maegan Mansfield, former Judge-Executive Danny Orazine and State Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, also shared their memories Smith's service, including his efforts to get the speed limit on the highway raised - the only unsuccessful project of Smith's mentioned during the ceremony.
"He not only spoke for western Kentucky, but for Kentucky as a whole," Leeper said. "He went to bat for us."
Smith graduated from Reidland High School and Paducah Junior College before moving on to Tennessee Polytechnic Institute. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and worked afterward at the Illinois Central Railroad for 15 years.
He became county engineer in 1957, a position he held until 1990. He worked at the same time as the Paducah-McCracken County Disaster and Emergency Services director, and served on the advisory board for the Kentucky Transportation Center from 1992 to the spring of 2013. He was Paducah's interim engineer in 1996, and worked as the city and county projects engineer and adviser starting in 1999.
Mansfield said her grandfather inspired her from the time she was 7 years old to pursue her own career in the field; she's now a civil engineer at ICA Engineering. She said she shared many 6 a.m. phone conversations about projects with Smith. But he was also the kind of person who went out of his way to learn a recipe for apple bran muffins for his wife, Lala Mae Smith.
"As an engineer, we go through many projects and a lot of design, but there's one thing that he put above that, and that's relationships with people," she said. "He just really cared."
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.