Community celebrates Nick Smarr, Jody Smith and LEO at Annual Paint the Town Blue Gala

Published 1:24 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

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2023 SSF Board: L-R front: Brett Murray, Jessie Simmons, Jay Lewis, Donnie McCrary, Ashley Austin, Hannah Pitts, Faith Pinnell, Tracy K. Hall, Blake Dukes, Chuck Hanks
Back Row: Paul Johnson, Michael Lewis, Mark Scott, Eric Bryant, Nigel Poole
Photo Credit: Shannan Blanchard

Tracy K. Hall

Since 2017 the Smarr Smith Foundation has been selling out the Georgia Southwestern Storm Dome with its annual Paint the Town Blue Gala which celebrates Nick Smarr, Jody Smith and our law enforcement officers (LEO). After the heart wrenching days of December 2016, this community has refused to stay quiet on our love and adoration for the work our LEO does to serve and protect us every minute of every day. We do this through small acts of unnamed kindnesses and appreciation throughout the year, however there is one day of the year which we gather to ensure it is known the lives of Nick and Jody matter deeply and the work of our LEO is seen as both life giving and sacrificial.

While most of us will never know what it means to put on a badge and dedicate our lives to protecting another life, while most of us honor justice and mercy, there are but a rare few who not only wear this as a personality trait, they make it their life’s work. On March 18, 2023, those people were celebrated in grand fashion. At a Paint the Town Blue Gala, you can find people of all sorts coming out to cheer our LEO. The love showered upon them is not limited to a specific age, sex, race or social status. The gala is one of the few times of year that everyone may find a spot at the table to celebrate the men and women of law enforcement who always see and appreciate who we are as a community. As Nick and Jody proved, their ability to see us a precious so much so, they were willing to lay down their lives in order to show their love and dedication to us. Their actions on December 7, 2016 are not to be forgotten and in many cases leave us in awe of the character who refuses to let us be harmed as far as it is left up to them. Our actions on December 7th and the following weeks would ring with hope and with refusal to let the worst word be the last word. The Smarr Smith Foundation (SSF) has been intentional about the story not ending with death of officers and ensuring Nick and Jody continue to speak life into this community.

While the board members of SSF are limited, they all endorse the idea they are representing the community at large when it comes to taking on celebrating Nick, Jody and our LEO. At the 2023 gala, a space and place was made for us to come together and give a hearty, “Yes, we adore our men and women in blue!” The doors are open to supporters of all types and a community dedicated to honoring the characteristics of a law enforcement professional were celebrated in a grand fashion. Neighbors broke bread together, celebrated the role a law enforcement officer plays in the best judicial system in the world, literally danced with joy over the heart of those LEOs and enjoyed communion with each other because we remain a community who still shows up to stand beside each other at our best and our worst. There is a time to weep our losses. There is a time to dream about solutions. Just as importantly there is a time to celebrate the people who have somehow procured such a character they can endure the tragic as well as keep a heart full of hope for our future.

The Smarr Smith Foundation is aware an LEO sees and stands with us at our worst. The foundation is also well aware our LEO are there to witness our best. Officers share our tragedies, yet, they are always there for our celebrations as well. They are aware of what hurts us, and they stand by knowing we need the peace they bring so we can celebrate life. We in Sumter County are so prized by our LEO we will often see them joining us in their uniforms, but also wearing their role as a neighbor as we go about what is precious to us. We worship, they are there. We mourn, they are there. We gather together to celebrate our little villages, they are there. We become frightened; they are there. We rest with a soul peace, they are there. We travel the roads to and from everyday errands and sacred events such as weddings and births and they are there. We have minor frustrations, and they are there. We suffer the greatest of griefs and they are there. We don’t see them as often as we should. On some occasions it is designed that way. On other occasions they are a very well seen presence offering a security we do not even realize we need.

Our LEO are our neighbors. We tend to forget such when they put on a uniform and a badge. They are invested in the same things we are. They want our children to experience the best we can offer, they want each of us to get good rest, they want us to enjoy our barbeques together, and they want us all to do it over and over again. They show us the best of humanity and guard what we cherish. It should be no surprise that when an invitation is given to celebrate these people, this community will do so. While those who attend Smarr Smith Foundation meetings are a mere few, everyone of them is aware they represent so many more and it is their joy to bestow upon our LEO the appreciation they richly deserve. The SSF very much knows this community, not them individually, is the Smarr Smith Foundation, they do not work on behalf of a few, and once again the Paint the Town Blue Gala proved this to be true. It is in gathering in Nick and Jody’s names that our village once again proves the worst thing will not be the last thing. It is our commitment to LEO that their commitment to us only grows greener. For such as this, there is reason to rejoice.

There were three officers in particular who represent the qualities of LEO in their actions this past year. There was a pause to give them honor. As the Smarr Smith Foundation Officer of the Year for GSW Public Safety Office, Maurice Brown received the honor. The Americus Police Department honored Eric English with the designation and the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office identified David Sims, Jr. as the officer worthy of the award.

Funds raised at this year’s gala, just as with all the galas, will stay local and go towards equipment and educational needs of officers. The officers in return will utilize these gifts to better serve and protect us. The department heads make requests of the SSF for items which their budgets will not allow for, but are needed in making sure their mission gets completed in a fashion worthy of the people they are protecting. Some of the items bought in the past include items such as body armor, cameras, drones, stop sticks and scholarships for both initial and ongoing training.

Donnie McCrary serves as SSF’s current president. In his reflections of the evening he states, “The Smith Smarr Foundation is simply blown away again by the support shown by our amazing community. Another sold out event shows our commitment to the law enforcement agencies is something worthwhile. Since the tragic deaths of Nick Smarr and Jody Smith, our community has formed an alliance that we hope will keep us unified and continue to back the blue. Thanks to everyone who made this event a success.”

To learn more about the Smarr Smith Foundation, please visit or speak with a board member. Board members are: Donnie McCrary, Ashley Austin, Jessie Simmons, Faith Pinnell, Hannah Pitts, Mike Tracy, Jay Lewis, Brett Murray, Chuck Hanks, Nigel Poole, Jimmy Whaley, Eric Bryant, Mark Scott, Blake Dukes, Paul Johnson, Michael Lewis and Tracy K. Hall.

If you would like to show your support by paying your state taxes to SSF in lieu of paying them to the State of Georgia, please speak with your tax professional or email The Smarr Smith Foundation is a 501c3 organization.