Leon Ellis Smith made an impression on everyone he encountered – either his fashionable attire caught your eye or his skillful photography transformed ordinary scenes or his beautiful spirit evoked feelings of warmth.
After a long, fulfilling life, Leon’s time on earth came to close with his passing on June 21, 2021. Just recently learning of his death, the Rev. Dr. William S. Epps, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, and the congregation, paid tribute to Leon, who was a longtime member of the historic Los Angeles church.
Dr. Epps noted Leon’s faithful attendance at the 8 a.m. worship service and how he used his photography talents to capture ministry events. Lillian Williams recalled how Leon compiled those photos into a decorative album that he gifted to various parishioners at the end of each year. The consensus of all was that people always remembered their moments with Leon.
A native of Smyrna, Tennessee, Leon was born on September 22, 1930 to Maggie Smith. The family soon moved to Nashville where they joined the Bass Street Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of the late Rev. Sam Alexander. According to his relatives, Leon enjoyed attending and participating in church activities.
Following graduation from Pearl High School, Leon enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a tour in the Korean War. He promoted to the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged. Enrolling next at A&I University (now Tennessee State University), Leon pledged in the Rho Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1956.
Relocating to Los Angeles, Leon worked for the U.S. Postal Service where he retired in 2002 after 47 years of service. All who knew him agree that he enjoyed living and loved to travel. Describing his impact on others, James E. Smith, Leon’s great-nephew, said, “He was a friend to all and never met a stranger. He was a very quiet, loving, and gentle spirit. He loved fashion and was known as ‘Mr. GQ.’
“As a teenager, he loved taking pictures and that special love followed him the rest of his life. Starting with pictures of family and friends, he grew skilled in capturing beauty in wedding events and banquets, photographing public figures, celebrities, entertainers, and athletes,” shared James, who added that Leon was active in the NAACP and often photographed the organization’s events and conventions.
Several family members preceded Leon in death including his mother, Maggie Smith; six brothers, Ferris, Isaac, James K., Dudley, Robert, and Howard Smith; and three sisters, Louise Smith Finney, Eva Mai Smith, and Pauline Smith Gross.
Cherishing the memory of Leon are his great-nephew, James E. Smith; devoted friend, Henry Hill, both of Nashville Tennessee; the Second Baptist Church family and many other relatives and friends.