The Warrenton Cemetery is home to thousands of gravesites. On Sunday afternoon, dozens of extended family members gathered around two in particular, to pay their respects and honor their long legacy in Fauquier County – more than 120 years of history. The day before, they had held a family reunion at the Warrenton Visitor Center.
William A. Smith was born on June 2, 1858, and died on Independence Day, July 4, in 1937. Hattie V. Smith is buried next to him. She was born Jan. 2, 1861, just a few months before the Civil War broke out in April. She died Nov. 4, 1949.
Their son, Willie Charles Smith of Warrenton, was born on Feb. 2, 1901, and died at age 61 on Sept. 26, 1962. His wife, Rita Mae Roy Smith of Manassas, was born June 2, 1905, and died Sept. 15, 2003, at age 98.
Willie and Rita met in Warrenton at the horse show grounds; Rita loved and rode horses. Their courtship led to marriage in 1926. With family at heart, they had 13 children of their own and raised their grandson Charles to make 14. As reported by one family member, baby Charles would come to visit and didn’t want to leave. He cried every day when he went home and had to be returned to Grandma and Granddaddy.
In addition to their own children, Willie and Rita raised several that lived in the community. As one member said, “Back in the day there was a village that raised each child.”
It is these two that the extended Smith family was particularly honoring.
Rita’s parents were Ida Bell Williams and Charles Hubert Roy. Rita was the niece of Dr. J.D. Williams of Manassas. Her father was the Rev. Marshall D. Williams, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Manassas and the pastor of First Baptist Church in The Plains.
Rita worked as a substitute teacher and a cook. She graduated from Manassas Industrial School and later returned to take a postgraduate course in cooking and sewing.
“We all loved eating Grandma’s biscuits and homemade meals, including ‘snapping turtle’ soup and fried chicken. Grandma was a gourmet cook for many families in Fauquier until she retired at the age of 72,” said Rita Smith, one of her grandchildren who helped organize the family gathering. “We have a lot of Ritas in the family,” laughed Smith.
Willie Smith was one of four children born to Hattie Virginia Addison and William Alexander Smith. He loved his family and moved next door to his parents. It wasn’t easy, but Willie, who worked as a laborer for more than 40 years, and Rita raised their 13 children and one grandson. Nine of those children are still living and residing in Warrenton.
Many were arriving at the cemetery Sunday from church services at First Baptist Church on Alexandria Pike. Edmonia and Frank Smith made their way to the tombstones of their parents and grandparents set apart by just a few feet.
“We don’t do this for every reunion but this year we decided to come to the cemetery,” said a pleased Edmonia Smith, happy that they were able to gather a representation of their large family.
They ranged in age from a few months old into the 80s; one elderly gentleman in a wheelchair was lovingly assisted to a shady spot. The afternoon was heating up.
Some of the men were in suits. Many of the family members were sporting red shirts, blouses or dresses. They were after a unified look on this special day to honor their past.
Rita Smith, a manager at English Oaks, is proud of her grandparents. “They were all baptized at First Baptist Church,” said Smith, listing their accomplishments. Harriet Mae Benimon, 88, worked at the Fauquier Hospital for more than 52 years. Joan Williams, 85, is the former director of Head Start and most recently served as a town councilwoman. Paul Smith, 84, retired from Safeway as a baker, James Smith, 83, retired from work with the government. Ida Simms, 79, retired as a day care worker. Frank Smith, 77, retired from work at Giant Food. Dorothy Marshall, 74, retired as a cook and is still employed as a caregiver. Rita Smith, 75, is a retired cook. Bernard Smith, 73, is still employed in customer relations and management.
When Grandma Rita passed at the age of 98, she had 32 grandchildren, 43 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. Memories of her and Granddaddy Willie remain alive and well. They loved sitting on their porch, a porch where many family members will still gather today to reflect on their rich legacy.
“We’ve got a lot of history in this county and a lot of professional people in the family who are teachers, managers, members of the military past and present and cooks,” said Smith, with obvious gratitude for the contributions her family has made, and is making, to the community they have called home for decades.
With the afternoon continuing to get warmer, the family began to disperse; many headed to the Mandarin Restaurant near Harris Teeter in Warrenton to continue their festivities. “Tell them about 30 brothers and sisters are coming,” said one of the siblings with a laugh.
Rita Smith had wanted them to all hold hands as Bette Midler’s popular song played in the background. For her, her family and their many families are heroes. With so many to muster and individual schedules coming into play, she decided that just having them altogether at the cemetery was just fine.
It was a good day for all. With so many youngsters present, the legacy of Willie and Rita Smith has a promising future.
Reach Anita Sherman at firstname.lastname@example.org