Former judge finds new calling

Published 4:03 pm Monday, April 16, 2012

By BETH CHAPMAN / Community Columnist

When former Shelby County Judge Patti Smith completed 25 years on the bench as district judge, she completed a six-year term as a justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Then she retired. Or did she?

Smith (Contributed)

Anyone who knew her knew the word “retirement” was not really in her vocabulary. The consummate helper, founder and board member to many non-profit organizations in the past, Smith was to retire and take it easy.

That is not the way the story ended. In her retirement she found a new calling with the Lovelady Center in East Lake where she serves on the board of directors and assists in teaching a class on The Purpose Driven Life. If anyone qualifies to teach that class, Patti Smith does.

When asked why the Lovelady Center attracted her attention she answered, “At this stage in my life, I want to commit a large portion of the tithe of my time and talents to faith-based ministries. It’s my way of meeting the great commission.”

The Lovelady Center is presently working with 450 women and children, many of whom have struggled with issues related to substance abuse or domestic violence.

As a former judge, Smith said more than 85 percent of all family court cases she heard were in some way related to substance abuse.

“The problem of substance abuse is pervasive in our society, and I’ve come to the conclusion that faith-based programs are most effective because of their Christ-based nature,” Smith said.

The Lovelady Center offers food, shelter and even college classes to its residents via a satellite office of Tennessee Temple. They prepare their residents to get jobs and help themselves.

Many of the women are such good employees that once they leave the Lovelady Center, they are kept on as permanent employees — a blessing and a curse because then there is no rotation out for new residents to get those same jobs. One company recently hired 20 residents of the Lovelady Center, but new employers are always needed.

In her spare time (as if there is any), Smith finds time to chair the Diocesan Review Board, and the Catholic Social Services Board of Directors for the Diocesan of Birmingham. She also enjoys travelling with her 86-year-old mother, visiting some of her 13 siblings across the country.

Beth Chapman, Alabama’s secretary of state, is a Shelby County resident and writes a weekly column for the Shelby County Reporter. You can reach her at