Author hopes book will help build children’s hospital

Published 10:08 am Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The man with the common name has had a life that has been anything but.

John Smith may sell insurance today, but he has been at the center of history more than once.

First, as a reporter for the military district newspaper in Washington, he was in charge of part of the national and international press corps that descended on Washington, D.C., the weekend before Thanksgiving in 1963 for the funeral of the country’s assassinated president, John F. Kennedy. It was Smith who as a representative of the military was charged with maintaining control of the press stand erected just yards from where the body of Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Almost seven years later, as a public information officer at Kent State University he was there when bullets blasted out of the rifles of Ohio National Guardsmen as four protesting KSU students were shot to death and nine others wounded on May 4, 1970.

But it’s a history of another kind, more up close and personal, that Smith focuses on today. Simply, he wants to see the quality of health care for children in the Tri-State dramatically improve.

His reason: an adorable 7-year-old who bears as his first name, Smith’s middle: Preston. The boy was born with a disorder of chromosomes 1 and 2. That means Preston is disabled in his speech, motor skills and comprehension.

“He is one of a kind,” Smith said. “There is no other child in modern medical history we can compare him to.”

Despite his disabilities, Preston can walk and just as importantly say “Grand Dad,” to the man who adores him.

“He is one of the lights of my life. He inspired me to write this book of short stories,” Smith said.

It’s through Smith’s book, “Beyond Imagination, Stories of Inspiration and Motivation,” that he hopes to reach his goal of helping children.

A portion of the proceeds from the book, which Smith is marketing himself across the country, is going towards building a Children’s Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

“When I decided to write ‘Beyond Imagination,’ I wanted to write something in short stories that was contemporary about people’s concerns, desires and fears about today,” Smith said. “Every day some people have a good life and some a tough one. But we all have the same amount of time each day while we are on this earth. … if this will help people get through the day and make people aware we will have a Children’s Hospital in Huntington.”

A Huntington native, Smith got the writing bug when he was a student at Marshall University. He took a break from his studies to join the military and became a reporter for The Pentagram, the military newspaper serving the Fort Myers community.

A week or two before the assassination of Kennedy, Smith got to shake the hand of his then commander in chief, in a chance meeting when the president was laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In days the nation was in mourning.

“I can still hear the clip clop of the horses pulling the caisson,” he said. “And the guy who played taps had played taps for years. But in the middle of it, he very slightly gets choked.”

A day after Kennedy’s burial, it was Smith who helped Jackie, now a widow, as she visited her husband’s grave for the first time.

“She decided she wanted to look at Washington from above his gravesite. She basically started walking through the mud,” Smith recalled. “I took her arm and escorted her and then lead her back to the car. It was somber, almost as quiet as being at the Vietnam Wall.”

Next a degree from Marshall was followed by a stint at PR for Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Akron before Kent State.

However, it was the KSU shooting that brought Smith full circle back to his roots.

“It affected me so. Basically, I told my wife, I wanted to go home,” Smith said. “That was a tragic event to see everything that led up to the riots and the burning of the ROTC building, and dealing with the aftermath when I was trying to resurrect the image of Kent State. That was very hard for a young person.”

He still bristles when he remembers an interview given to a national CBS correspondent after the massacre when the protesters were labeled long-haired radical hippies.

“That’s not what happened. They were typical college students who protested a president who said we were not dropping napalm and we were.”

Now, supporting Cabell’s proposed Children’s Hospital is a primary goal of Smith, as he reflects on how much his life experiences have taught him.

“Time is the most valuable asset that we all have,” he said. “If you use that time properly it takes years and years of dedication before you learn that is how you have to spend your time.”

And for all who buy a copy of his book, Smith looks at them as part of a legacy for his hometown.

“They have supported a children’s hospital.”


To buy a copy of “Beyond Imagination” by J. Preston Smith, visit Smith’s Web site at