Mark Smith was recruited for employment on a university campus in 1971, and retired from the same company 40 years later. His entire career has been one of power.
As a mechanical engineering specialist with Luminant, the electric power generating company for TXU Corporation until it was sold to Energy Future Holdings in 2007, Smith never wanted to pull the plug.
“I worked for the company, which had several names during my employment for my entire career,” he said. “Mostly, I worked in positions that provided engineering solutions to issues going on at the power plants, both during the construction of the plants and while they were operating.”
His job always held a challenge.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington in May 1971, Smith began work with the company in the construction support group at the Monticello Plant near Mount Pleasant.
“I transferred to the construction support group at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant near Glen Rose in January 1975. That’s when we moved to Cleburne.”
After the plant become operational he stayed at Comanche Peak and supported operation of the plant. In 1999, he transferred to the Dallas office, commuting to work in a group that provided engineering support and project management for the operating fossil-fueled (coal and natural gas) plants. He retired there last September.
Smith was born in Fort Worth and spent his early years in south Denton County, now Double Oak.
“We moved to Keller in 1956, so my dad, Frank, could be closer to his job as a fireman and engineer for the Texas & Pacific [Railway] and later the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
“After my two sisters, Leta and Jill, and I were all in school, my mom, Violet, returned to work for the Federal Government — for the Secret Service Corps of Engineers and General Services Administration.”
The family enjoyed camping vacations in mountain states, but as a child, Mark didn’t wait for vacations to explore.
“I roamed around our 10 acres, shooting my BB gun and riding my bicycle. Half of our place was wooded. I knew almost every square foot of it. I was in Boy Scouts and Explorers, and Dad was an assistant scoutmaster.”
His family members were faithful to attend First Baptist Church at Keller.
“We were there whenever the doors were open. I became a Christian at a young age, and I was involved with the children’s and youth activities,” he said. “I liked school — at least most of it — from the beginning. I remember two elementary teachers that I really liked — Mrs. Simpson for third grade and Mrs. Harris for fourth. In Keller High [School], my principal, Mr. Benson, taught chemistry and physics. He was all business and knew how to teach. He was a good communicator, and I could tell he cared about all of us.”
Mark enjoyed Little League as a child and played baseball all four years at Keller High School.
“I was best in baseball, but I also played football my freshman and senior years. Keller always had a good football team in those days and always won district. Even though I was small, I wanted to be a part of it.
“We could never seem to win the bi-district game. In my senior year, [1965 football season] we finally won that game and went on to the state semi-finals, but we lost to White Deer.”
Mark learned how to be a conscientious worker at a young age. His first job was helping a plumber with septic tank system installations.
“I was the one moving the gravel into the trenches from the pile where the dump truck left it. One summer and some weekends I worked for [then] State Representative ‘Skeet’ Richardson, helping construct portable buildings.”
Encouraged at an early age to consider the engineering field by his father, Mark attended Schreiner Junior College in Kerrville for two years and transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington.
At UTA, he met his future wife, Sally Lyle.
“I was a freshman,” Sally said. “Mark was one of the executive council leaders at the Baptist Student Union, and he was very friendly to everyone. He was so confident, and I liked to be around him.
“I went home and told my mother about Mark, but added that I would never date him because he was short and had red hair.”
Their friendship deepened. They found they had similar backgrounds.
“He had a very close family and so did I,” she said. “We had both always gone to church. He became my best friend.”
Sally said Mark’s confidence helped her.
“I had been a sickly child, born prematurely with a heart murmur. I missed almost an entire semester in first grade — catching every illness. We lived in Southwest Arlington, and our school was annexed into Fort Worth’s schools. We were bused to junior high and Eastern Hills High School as country kids and were treated as such by the other students. It was just a different world to most of us.”
Sally had leadership skills that she couldn’t use at school. She made Tate Springs Baptist Church the center of her friendships and activities.
Mark said that after several months he and Sally started dating in March 1970. They attended a BSU mission trip to the Texas valley, and neither dated others after that.
He graduated from UTA with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in 1971. He joined the Naval Reserves, and while he was deployed for six months, she continued attending UTA.
They married May 20, 1972, at her home church. They lived in Sulphur Springs where he drove to Mount Pleasant to work while she attended East Texas State University to finish her degree in December 1973.
“My college graduation meant a lot to my family,” she said. “My father, with a seventh-grade education, worked for White Swan Foods for 47 years. He and my mother, Rozelle, ran our country grocery store for many years near the Little Road exit in Arlington.”
The family’s store helped her learn responsibility.
“As a young girl my dad taught me to pump gas and to make change. Each Jan. 1, I helped him take inventory by recording numbers. I loved it even though he didn’t.
“I also worked seasonal jobs at Stripling’s at Seminary South and at JCPenney, selling clothes and cosmetics. I was secretary at our church and later at the BSU on campus.”
After she and Mark married, Sally taught second-grade at Sulphur Springs until they moved to Cleburne in late 1974, where she taught seventh- and eighth-grade English for two years until their daughter, Kendra was born.
Sally was employed in the Cleburne ISD Administrative Office for 16 years. The last eight years there she was in the superintendent’s office. She is now an administrative assistant at Field Street Baptist Church.
The Smiths have been active members at Field Street Baptist for 37 years. He is a deacon and chairs the finance committee. She served as interim music director at different times, having directed three Living Christmas Trees. She plays handbells, is a member of the sanctuary choir and directs the ensemble One Voice. She coordinated children’s choir for 25 years and has co-directed Vacation Bible School. They jointly teach a Bible study class for young adults.
Their daughter, Kendra Alexander and her husband, John, live in Greer, S.C. The Smith’s son, Blake, and his wife, Leigh, reside in Mansfield. The Smiths are expecting their third grandchild in March.
I asked Mark what type of leadership he always tried to offer.
“I’ve always worked hard, putting in time and effort necessary to complete the job — whatever it was — on time and within budget. The ones under my leadership should be able to see me working just as hard as they are — I should be helping remove obstacles in order to make their jobs easier.”
I saw a plaque that his colleagues in Systems Engineering gave him when he retired. It read, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life. 2 Peter 1:3.”
Sally smiled and added, “That is from the people who saw Mark every day under all sorts of circumstances. The life Mark lived at work is the same one he lives on Sunday morning.”
And then I understood. The greatest power is not atomic or fossil- fueled — it is God’s.
Larue Barnes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.