One of TAG’s finest landowners, Charlie Smith, passed away April 21, 2009 at the age of 75. Charlie was a kind and gentle mountain man who worked as a heavy equipment operator for many years and as a farmer his entire life. No matter the time of year, he always sported Liberty overalls and left his door wide open for cavers and other visitors. Charlie graciously allowed cavers to access his property in Fiery Gizzard Cove, Tennessee and visit TAG classics such as Solution Rift, Hermit Cave and Sawmill Well. No matter how much work had to be done on his farm, Charlie always made time for cavers to pull up a chair on the front porch and enjoy life. He made cavers from every state feel welcome and always put our interests in exploration, discovery and survey paramount to his work. It didn’t hurt that he kept a few cases of liquid story-teller on hand.
Charlie’s love of caves and discovery led him to Mexico in the early 1990s when he drove TAG cavers Teresa Williams Benamy and Jon Brown to visit Sotono de las Golindrinas and other classic Mexican pits. They drove in his red Dodge pick-up truck that proudly displayed the name of his farm, “Smith’s Possum Farm” as well as bumper sticker that stated, “Eat More Possum.” Although he didn’t cave, Charlie made new friends in every village and left a memorable impression on the Mexican cavers. He always enjoyed sharing stories about his first and only trip out of the country.
When the Chattanooga Grotto did their roadside cleanups along the road to his cove he would drive by real slow, counting, and come back with breakfast biscuits for everyone there. It was not in his nature to let anyone, especially his “caver family,” work and not be rewarded. When asked about hosting the annual Chattanooga Grotto picnic, Charlie’s usual reply was, “Why did you even bother to ask? All you had to do was tell me when it was so that I’d make sure to be here for it!”
While attending the TAG Fall Cave-In one year Charlie asked if he could help out at the Munchie Stand. “Sure, glad to have you on board!” He strolled back to his truck, put on a clean hat and took the next order. Everyone who stepped up to the windows was smiling and laughing with Charlie. Of course, who could keep a straight face while reading his hat, “Smile if you’re not wearing panties!”
In 1997, Charlie received the Larry S. Adams Landowner Appreciation Award from the Southeast Region Association (SERA) of the NSS for his outstanding stewardship of caves in the Fiery Gizzard area of Tennessee. Articles in NSS Convention Guidebooks featured him as one of TAG’s most generous and beloved landowners. Charlie also starred as a caver friendly landowner in the video “T.A.G!: You’re It” which was shown at the 1998 NSS Convention. His love for cavers was evidenced in the film as he talked about continuing his daddy’s friendship that started with the cavers who discovered and pushed Solution Rift. Over the years, while Charlie never got beyond the entrance sink or the lower entrance beyond the dam, he knew the cave like the back of his hand from photos that Marion O. Smith and Wm Shrewsbury gave him, along with the stories shared by the countless cavers who visited his classic TAG caves. No trip to TAG was complete without stopping in, dropping a few pits on his property and spending some time with him over a few drinks or going to town for supper.
Charlie was also an honorary life member of the Sewanee Mountain Grotto, which was reinstated after a group of friends met in his basement one summer evening. The Sewanee Mountain Grotto would celebrate his birthday every year and despite our pleas to help out around the farm, he always replied that the best birthday present he could receive would be to have all the cavers enjoy themselves underground. Although it is always difficult to say goodbye to a friend, the Sewanee Mountain Grotto hosted a Memorial at Charlie’s farm on July 11, 2009 to celebrate his life. Rather than have a formal ceremony, we knew what Charlie would have wanted us to do--go caving on his farm and have fun.
We were fortunate to have Charlie in our lives and appreciate the time he made for all of us to be part of his life. His kindness and generosity are paramount to none and he will always be missed. Charlie is survived by his children, LeAnne Smith, Charles Roy Smith and Troy “Wolfee” Mount who carry on the legend of Charlie’s generous hospitality towards cavers. They have some really big overalls to fill…