Spectators at Saturday night's Movie Night lit candles in memory of the event's organizer, Michael Smith, who died earlier this month.
CLAYTON -- Saturday was an evening that would have made Michael Smith proud. Hundreds of families gathered last Saturday at Town Square to enjoy the second in a series of summer movie nights he sponsored as owner the local Zaxby’s Restaurant.
Children delighted in playing in a bounce house while their parents picnicked and chatted alongside in chairs and blankets spread out across the lawn. Showing on an inflatable big screen was Kung Fu Panda 2 but in everyone’s hearts was a reminder of a man and his dedication to the community.
Smith, 31, died unexpectedly Aug. 10 at his home in Clayton. His wife, Kelly, continued with the event as planned saying her husband’s ultimate goal was providing occasions to bring families closer together.
“This defined Michael,” said Kelly Smith as she took in the crowd of people enjoying the festivities. “An event like this is exactly what he wanted. It would have meant the world to him.”
She attended along with the couple’s two children, daughter Hailey, 3, and son Jacob, 1, in addition to several other extended family members. Smith said Michael also considered the community part of his family and couldn’t thank them enough for the support they have shown to her during this difficult time.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without the community’s love and support,” she said. “It brings a smile to my face to see everyone here and I know it would have done the same for him.”
‘Never said no’
As the sky darkened, members of the Clayton Rotary passed out candles to the spectators. A hush descended on the group as a moment of silence was offered to pay tribute to Smith’s legacy and honor the impact he made in the area.
Lisa Sacca, president of the Archer Lodge Middle School PTA, said Smith was a businessman who was always ready to help out anywhere he was needed. He was known for hosting frequent fundraisers at his restaurants benefitting local schools and charities.
“I think this was a major hit to Clayton,” said Sacca. “His commitment to the community was rare. Mike never said no to anyone. He was someone in town that you could go to for help to support any event.”
Friends for over five years, Sacca said Smith’s infectious personality won’t soon be forgotten.
“He said “I love you” to everyone, men and women,” Sacca said. “Now his children are doing that same thing. He instilled that into them and they are such a good reflection of him.”
Micah and Jamie Thompson knew Smith as just a regular guy who lived in the house behind them in the Plantation Pointe subdivision. The families would often gather for cookouts and games of corn hole. It was only after his death the couple realized what an impact he had made on Johnston County.
“At his funeral we sat and listened to all these people get up and speak about how much he did for the schools and churches in the area,” explained Micah Thompson. “I never knew about all the lives he had touched.”
Her husband and Smith became fast friends who enjoyed watching UFC fights. Thompson recalled a trip the pair took to New York City – Smith’s first visit - about two years ago to attend a live match.
“It didn’t take long for me to instantly like Mike,” said Jamie Thompson. “He was an everyday guy who had something special about him.”
Smith, a charter member of the Clayton Mid-Day Rotary, casts a long shadow, according to member Dave Brown. He challenged others to carry on the charitable work started by Smith.
“If you look around and see the energy that is here tonight, that is his impact,” Brown said. “Michael has now given the entire community a reason to step up and carry on his legacy. He left some big shoes to fill but I think the community is up to the task.”