Longtime leader John Smart dies at age of 93


A joy to be around, easy to work with, a politician, steady and community-minded were some of the words people used Monday to describe John Smart, who died Thursday at the age of 93.

A two-term Highland County commissioner, Smart was a lifelong farmer and World War II veteran. He was also a township trustee, Highland County recorder for two terms, and longtime registrar for the Hillsboro License Bureau.

“John was just an absolute joy to be around. He loved to have fun and joke and laugh while doing the work of the office,” said Harriett Fenner, who served as a county commissioner with Smart. “He was just a guy who loved life. He always had a smile. He just enjoyed himself, and he had a wonderful wife.”

Fenner said she and Smart worked together “back in the day when it didn’t matter if you were Republican or Democrat. We all got along.”

Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss was the prosecuting attorney when Smart was a county commissioner. But he said their relationship goes back to when Coss was 10 years old and he and one of Smart’s son, Vic, played on the same Little League team. Coss’ dad coached the team and Smart helped.

Coss said he has a vivid memory of Smart from when he was 11 or 12 years and went to a Cincinnati Reds game at Crosley Field with his dad and the Smarts. The group was sitting in the front row along the third baseline when a line drive foul ball came screaming toward them. Coss ducked.

“John reached up with one hand and caught that thing,” Coss said. “Nobody ever thought of John being an athlete. They thought of him as a farmer or politician. That was just emblazoned on my mind forever. I never will forget it.”

Coss said Smart was a hard-working man who always had the interest of the community in mind.

“He never gave up,” Coss said. “He won a lot of elections and he got beat some, but he always ran a very honest, straight-forward campaign. No dirty politics or anything like that. He was a real gentleman. Since he got ill and hasn’t been out and about, he’s certainly been missed. His death is a real loss to the community, and of course to his family and those who loved him.”

Mary Mahaffey was a dispatcher for her husband, former Highland County Sheriff Earl Mahaffey, during much of the time Smart held elected positions.

“He was a wonderful guy, always laughing and joking around,” she said. “We saw him campaigning and at dinners a lot and he was always the same old John.”

Doris Edgington was a clerk in the commissioners’ office when Smart was a commissioner.

“He was nice. He was always joking and laughing, but he had a serious side,” Edgington said. “He was easy to work with and liked people. He was a good guy.”

Former sheriff and current commissioner Tom Horst said he was working at the Hillsboro Police Department when Smart was the recorder.

“He was quite an individual,” Horst said, “and quite a politician.”

Horst said one of his favorite memories of Smart is when Horst was running for sheriff in 1988 and was campaigning in Mowrystown when he saw Smart going door to door campaigning, too. Horst, a Republican, said he noticed Smart, a Democrat, was covering lots of ground and they had a little chat.

“He said, ‘Let me tell you how to do it,’” Horst recalled. “He said, ‘Knock once, and if no one answers stick something in the door and move on to the next house.’”

“Everybody you talked to about John liked John,” Horst added. “I don’t think he ever passed me by without having something nice to say.”

Smart is survived by his wife, Alberta, and two sons.

Funeral services will held 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Turner & Son Funeral Home. Bob Stevens will officiate. Burial will follow with military services presented by the Highland County Honor Guard in the Coss Cemetery near Belfast.

Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. until time of service Thursday at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to Community Care Hospice, P.O. Box 123, Wilmington, Ohio 45177.

For the full obituary see today’s obit section.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

Fenner: ‘John was just an absolute joy to be around’

By Jeff Gilliland

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