2013-12-19 / Obituaries

Dr. Phillip M. Smith

One of Mariposa’s most iconic residents, Dr. Phillip M. Smith, lost his long battle with cancer on Dec. 11, 2013 while surrounded by his family.

Smith was born on Jan. 27, 1955 in Philadelphia, Miss. He was the oldest son of Mona LouNell Lewis and the late Marvin Smith. He spent his childhood in Mississippi and Texas, and was a graduate of Neshoba Central High School. At Neshoba Central, Smith was a three-sport letterman with the Rocket football, basketball and baseball teams. He was also a four-year member of the “Big Blue” band, as well as a noted scholar.

During his high-school career, he was a winner of the state science fair, and a national winner of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) award, and was senior class winner of the school’s outstanding science, history and instrumental music awards. After graduation, he attended East Mississippi College and the University of Mississippi, where he performed with the bands and musical theater as well as taking part in interscholastic sports.

Smith then enlisted in the United States Army, where he first served for three years in the infantry. In the 1970s, he reenlisted into the career field that was to be his passion for the rest of his life: the military band program. He completed the Armed Forces School of Music at the Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va. After completing the basic course, Smith served as instrumentalist and arranger-composer for numerous field bands in Virginia, Japan and Korea.

As he rose through the ranks, he held positions of section leader, squad leader and group leader. He also attended advanced courses through the School of Music, as well as continuing his education through the Armed Forces Institute of Continuing Education. He studied college-level instruction through the University of Maryland, Virginia State University, Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis—as well as New York Regents.

He received his undergraduate degrees in Applied Music and History. Continuing his military career, Smith served with bands in Korea, Indiana, New York, Panama and South Carolina, rising to the position of band leader. He also continued his education, receiving post-graduate degrees including a PhD in military history and an EdD. in music composition.

During his military service, Smith also met the love of his life, the former Yong Song Kim of Seoul, Korea. Yong and Phil were to spend almost the next four decades together, and have two sons, Ian Lee and Shawn Jun.

As a performing artist, teacher and composer, Smith performed over much of the world for kings, queens and presidents—as well as for common people everywhere, from Jamaica to Japan. He also had over 600 published arrangements and compositions, primarily for band and orchestra. Smith also directed youth groups, including the Carrollton High School Band in Alabama.

Throughout his musical career, he was also a noted sports official. He served as both a football and basketball referee, including for high school and Division II college sports. He was also a certified FIFA soccer referee. But where he was most noted was as a softball and baseball umpire. Smith worked three National ASA Championships and Division I College Softball and was a Mickey Owens Baseball Umpire School Graduate. As a baseball umpire, he worked all levels of high school and college baseball, as well as the National Baseball Congress World Series, the College World Series, as well as a number of games for the 1988 Olympics.

Not long after taking a disability retirement from the Army in 1992, Smith and his family moved to Mariposa where he undertook what he said was “My true calling.” He joined with legendary director Bruce Williams in the late 1990s as the associate band director at Mariposa Middle School.

Williams and Smith transferred to Mariposa County High School in 2000. Williams retired in 2007 and Smith took over the lead role directing the band until his passing.

In over a dozen years with the Grizzly Band, the group rose to the ranks of the elite programs in the nation. Over the years, Smith wrote and composed most of the music performed by the Grizzly marching, pep, concert and show bands. He was also instrumental in designing shows and programs, coaching the auxiliary units, and serving as mentor for a generation of young people in the Mariposa community.

“My personal accomplishments have never meant a whole lot to me,” Smith once remarked. “What I take true pride in, is what our band has done.”

And the accomplishments were many. During Smith’s tenure, the Grizzly Band won over 40 awards at parade competitions such as the Selma Marching Band Contest, Big Fresno Fair Band Review, Central California Band Review as well as local and regional parades. Smith also led the band into the Forum Music Festival Concert Band Contests, where it won numerous medals, including a silver medal at the International Heritage Festival. The Grizzly Band also established a reputation by serving as a host band for two Shrine College Football All-Star games in San Francisco, performing with the West Coast Band of Pride in San Diego, marching in the annual Fresno State Band Day, participating in the San Diego Veterans Day parade and Fresno Christmas Parade, as well as innumerable school, veteran and local events.

But two of Smith’s proudest accomplishments came in 2011. In June of that year, the Grizzly Band was selected as the Grammy Signature Schools Enterprise Award Winner, followed in November by performing on Times Square with the Band of Pride and marching in the 92nd Annual New York City Veterans Day Parade.

“This was truly a highlight,” Smith remarked. “It was one of my greatest pleasures to have given our students this wonderful opportunity.”

Other awards presented to the band include mention in the Congressional Record, as well as the California State Assembly.

In addition to his work with the band, Smith was a founding member of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra, where he served as principal tuba player, as well as contributing arranger and composer. He was a life member of VFW Post 6042 and the Disabled American Veterans. He was a past member of SCOPE, a former president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 360, and a Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. He was also recognized by the Mariposa Rotary Club and Rotary International.

Smith’s military awards include the Army Commendation Medal (seven awards); Army Achievement Medal (five awards); National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal (six awards); along with the Army Service, Overseas Service and Professional Development ribbons.

Smith is survived by his grandmother Miram Lewis (over 100 years old) and mother, LouNell Cheatham, two half-brothers, Robbie and Kevin Cheatham and one half-sister, Reina, all from Philadelphia, Miss.

He is also survived by his beloved wife, Yong Song, and two sons, Ian Lee and Shawn Jun, from Mariposa.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 21 at the town cemetery off Joe Howard Street. In place of flowers, donations may be made to the Mariposa County High School Grizzly Band or the Grizzly Band Boosters.

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