“I don’t believe in retiring and don’t think other people should, too. We’re supposed to keep going as long as we can.” – Raymond Smoker, August 31, 2012
Jay Paul Maddox, MD, looks off into the distance as he remembers Raymond.
“He was a simple man who made a huge impact on people – more by example than words. He was the kindest, sweetest man who gave me more than I ever gave him.”
The stories we tell about others are very often the most revealing about ourselves.
Raymond Smoker was an 87-year-old Mennonite from Pennsylvania who first crossed paths with Dr. Maddox probably 20 years ago.
A lifelong bachelor, Raymond left the cold
of the north in the 1980s to join his sisters in Florida.
He had a small farm near Chipley, which he operated with minimum mechanization. Using huge draft horses, Raymond sustained himself and his animals – critters, he called them – using the agricultural methods of the past. With his rusty equipment, Raymond cultivated, planted and harvested with the most natural of horse powers.
His friendship with Dr. Maddox was reinforced by a mutual interest. Dr. Maddox, who lives on an approximately 330-acre farm with his wife, Linda, was interested in Raymond’s methods and wanted to incorporate them on his farm.
Then there came a time when Raymond moved to the Maddox farm.
“A year ago in June, I had a fall and got a pelvic fracture. Doc found me at Southeast Alabama Medical Center,” Raymond said last August.
Raymond was, in fact, patching his roof when he fell and at his age, Dr. Maddox didn’t think it wise for Raymond to continue living as self-sufficiently as he had. Raymond sold his small farm and brought his horses and horse-drawn equipment to the Maddox Farm near Wicksburg.
“I thought we would be that place where he took care of horses.
I never dreamed he would live here,” said Dr. Maddox.
As Raymond recuperated, he was uncomfortable sharing quarters in the big house with the Maddoxes. He soon found a place in a renovated area of the barn in the far stables where he was close to the horses and the life he loved.
Raymond lived there and worked on the farm for the last year-and-a-half of his life until a freak horse accident took him home on September 14, 2012.
The day of the accident, Raymond was helping get a team of horses ready for a wedding at a nearby farm. Dr. Maddox was to join him an hour later. But one of the horses reared up, pushing Raymond backward. He struck his head and never regained consciousness.
Dr. Maddox expresses deep sadness over the loss of his friend and teacher. This 5-foot, 100-pound peaceful soul with bushy black eyebrows and a 3-inch beard, who went barefoot more often than he wore shoes, wearing a thin cotton shirt, blue jeans, a weathered straw hat and black suspenders, had made a lasting impression on the physician.
Such a man, who could remember the names, offspring and peculiarities of every horse he’d ever owned, indeed made an impression on a skilled and educated orthopaedic surgeon whose career spans 32 years and is a partner in the largest orthopaedic practice in the region, Southern Bone & Joint Specialists.
“He had the values of simple living. He had an amazing commitment to God, a little boy’s heart and a reverence for the land,” Dr. Maddox said.
Raymond was also a good judge of character.
He recognized the generosity extended by Dr. Maddox and Linda, who seven years ago began opening up their farm for a trail ride benefitting the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries. The Maddoxes provide the venue for the annual spring event and spend time preparing the trails. This past year the ride attracted about 1,500 people and raised thousands of dollars for the Children’s Home.
It never surprised Raymond, who enjoyed being a part of the activities. “Doc helps others. Life has some quite hard knocks at times. Some people can’t see their way through adversity,” he said.
Dr. Maddox and Linda were each motivated to do the trail ride by separate events in their lives. When he was about eight years old, Dr. Maddox’s neighbor opened his small farm up to him and his little brother, who are the sons of a Baptist minister.
“It changed my whole world,” Dr. Maddox said. “We could go to the woods and explore. The things you get to do on a farm! It had a huge impact on us. Our heart has been to let other kids use the farm like that.”
When the Maddox’s four children were growing up, the farm was always open for fellowship and friends, a little guitar picking and sing-alongs. For about 10 years, teenagers from around the Wiregrass met in the barn every Thursday for a student-led Bible study.
For Linda, the childhood memories were not so sweet.
Said Raymond: “Mrs. Maddox’s mother died when she was nine. She had the rest (three younger brothers and a sister) to care for. They had nothing in their cupboards. The state came in and took them away. She and her brother were adopted so she has a heart for these children.”
A year after entering the Oklahoma Baptist Children’s Home with one brother, the two were adopted by a Baptist minister and his wife. Linda learned what love is and that there is a God who is also loving.
She describes the orphanage as a large compound where she never saw her brother. Then came the painful visits.
“When young couples came in to adopt, they lined us all up against the wall to see if they liked us,” she recalls.
It was a study in rejection. Older children rarely get adopted because most adoptees want younger children.
“I realized each child who comes here to the farm is precious. This is such a little thing for us to do, to help raise money for something like this. I feel for every child and what they are going through,” she said.
Perhaps this is also why Linda takes in the undesirable and rejected wounded, sick or aggressive dogs from Save-A-Pet, rehabilitates them and helps find them a home. She now has about 35 dogs in specially built pens. Dr. Maddox said his wife has easily placed 100 to 150 dogs.
“We’ve picked up a lot of people over the years,” Linda said, including Hurricane Opal and Katrina victims, a man they found sweeping up at a gas station, a family with four children and others.
Linda said she and her husband believe in giving back. “The things we have don’t belong to us anyway. They belong to God. But I believe the more you have, the more you should give.”
Dr. Maddox puts in a lot of hours and has a lot of long days on the farm. Throughout his life, it was evident that Raymond valued and loved work as well. Raymond proudly stated that “Doc rolls up his sleeves too and is not a bit scared of work.”
“To him work was honorable. He valued that in people and in horses,” Dr. Maddox said.
As Dr. Maddox recounts memories of Raymond hitching up a plow behind powerful Percherons and Clydesdales. He tells the story of his sifting through a cardboard box of photographs dating back to the 1940s. Raymond pulled out a blurry picture of a horse and delivered the history of the animal from temperament to foals. Then he picked up another picture and another, each time telling the life story of the photographed horse.
Many stories later, Dr. Maddox passed the box of memories back to Raymond.
“You keep them,” Raymond said.
“I couldn’t believe he would give me those photographs but he insisted,” Dr. Maddox said. “I realized he was giving us his life in pictures. I asked him why and he said, ‘So you can tell people.'”
Raymond’s decades-old farming practices have been embraced on the Maddox Farm and are evident in fields, fences and gardens. These visible signs are part of this devout Mennonite man’s legacy. His photographs and memorabilia will also be preserved in a museum to be established at the farm. In addition, the annual trail ride will be renamed in honor of Raymond.