David Lauderdale

Lowcountry loses a window to its Huck Finn past

June Smith came to Hilton Head Island because of her husband's job.

It was right after World War II. Bill was hired to tear down the Marine Corps barracks where an Arthur Hills golf course winds today through Palmetto Dunes Resort.

He then became a constable on the lonely island with no bridge. His main job was to keep poachers off the best oyster beds. He came this way because he was in the Hudson family. His Uncle Ben, J.B. Hudson Sr., was the magistrate. He had a store in "downtown" Hilton Head, at the head of Squire Pope Road. And he was in the seafood business, harvesting oysters and shrimp.

Later, June and Bill managed a hunting preserve on Pinckney Island for more than 20 years, making sure everything was just right for the Northern owners, like James Bruce, former ambassador to Argentina, and guests, like Allen Dulles, head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

June and Bill raised three children in a Huck Finn world on the island that is now a National Wildlife Refuge.

"In Bill and June, the ambassador found a couple delighted to move to Pinckney Island," Fran Heyward Marscher writes in her book, "Remembering the Way it Was at Hilton Head, Bluffton and Daufuskie."

Marscher writes that they were "a management team that could plan a hunt, run a boat, repair a piece of machinery, keep books, shop for supplies for a hunting lodge, raise baby quail and turkeys, plan menus and oversee food preparation for a growing number of guests."

They were hardscrabble people from an era of the Lowcountry that won't pass this way again. They had to make do, recycle, trade, hunt, plant, fish ... survive on wit and wisdom in a beautiful but poverty-ridden place.

June died of a heart attack last Tuesday morning. She was 90 and had been living in Ridgeland with her youngest son, Randy. She went full tilt to the end, said her daughter, Alice Boyd, still reading The Beaufort Gazette and hounding the news of the Lowcountry.

June's husband died unexpectedly in 1972. She worked more than 15 years as a bookkeeper at The Island Packet. She was then executive director of the Hardeeville Chamber of Commerce for 10 years.

Her oldest child, Charles L. "Bubba" Smith, was a deputy sheriff when there was only a handful of them in the county, then a detective, and Beaufort County magistrate in Bluffton. He's now municipal judge in Yemassee. Her husband's brother, Lynn L. "Buck" Smith, was the magistrate on Hilton Head back when people could be sentenced to shucking oysters. Justice seemed to have a little more mercy when everyone knew each other.

June herself could have been the head of the Lowcountry Intelligence Agency. She knew every dirt road, and the dirt behind every door. She knew people, and their parents, grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents. Nobody ever stumped her on the news.

"If she didn't know it right then, she'd know it within 10 minutes," Alice said.

One time I answered the phone at the Packet and the Los Angeles Times was on the line. A man wanted to know if it was true the world heavyweight boxing champion, Leon Spinks, was coming to Hilton Head to train for his rematch with Muhammad Ali.

I turned to June. "Call ol' Thomas Cohen," she said. "He knows all about boxin'."

Yes, Cohen said, Leon Spinks is coming. In 10 minutes, the Los Angeles Times had its scoop, thanks to June Smith and Thomas Cohen, who ran a cinderblock boxing gym with no roof on Spanish Wells Road, and hoped in vain the champ would help him out.

June was polite to everyone, but she didn't cut a one of us any slack. She knew human nature and could sniff out trouble and pretension like one of Bill's bird dogs.

At her graveside service Thursday at Maye River Baptist Church, the Rev. Mike Richards offered Scripture and read the lyrics to "Mansion Over The Hilltop." Raymond and Johnnie Mae Boyles and their daughter, Donna, sang an a cappella medley of "Amazing Grace" and June's favorite, "Beulah Land."

June's granddaughter, Christy Lynn DeCosta, read a poem called "The Dash." Then Christy's children each placed a flower on the wooden coffin.

And a wonderful Lowcountry character took her well-deserved rest next to Bill.