Gardening 08

John S. Smith

June 17, 1943 ~ October 28, 2021 (age 78)


John Stephen Smith, of North Little Rock, passed away unexpectedly on October 28, 2021.  He was born June 17, 1943 to the late Clifford and Frances Smith.  He was a leader in the funeral industry and a man of great integrity. 

Imagine being twelve years old, living an ideal life in the country with your own dog and pony, when one day your dad lays on you, “Son, we are opening a funeral home. We are moving and will live above it, and we are selling your pony and giving your dog away.”  That’s how John Smith’s career began in funeral service.  

On Valentine’s Day 1955, his father, Clifford Smith, opened North Little Rock Funeral Home.  John attended Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science and took over as President at the young age of 23.  For the next 45 years he and his wife, Kay, worked to build the funeral home and serve the North Little Rock community.  They further established North Little Rock Funeral Home to be one of the largest and most respected funeral homes in the state. Together, John and Kay were elected AR Funeral Director of the year, having been the only co-recipients to receive this prestigious award. In 2010, John retired and sold the funeral home to his son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Leslie Smith.  

John was a highly respected businessman, full of wisdom and led with a quiet presence. He had a quick wit, dry sense of humor and was known for telling great stories...repeatedly. When he was speaking, everyone was listening.  He was known for his mannerisms and huffs, and often was a man of few words.  But his actions of kindness and thoughtfulness spoke louder than his words.

John served as president of Arkansas Funeral Directors Association and Little Rock Executive’s Association and was inducted into the Arkansas Funeral Directors Hall of Fame in 2018. He was an active member of LREA for 43 years, NLR Rotary Club (Paul Harris Fellow recipient), Preferred Funeral Director’s International, and a past board member at AA’s Wolfe Street Center.

John was a longtime member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in North Little Rock. After retiring from the funeral home, he continued his service to the bereaved by serving meals to families within his church. He was famous for his “Cherry Nut Pie”.

For over thirty-five years, you could find John at lunch every Wednesday with his best friends, the Lunch Bunch: Presley, Bill, Jim, Renie, Tim, Dudley, Loyd, Don, and Bart.  They went on annual adventures together and did life together.  He loved these men, and they loved him.  

John was lovingly known as “Papa John” to his family.  There was no doubt his family was the most important part of him.  He loved spending time at their lakehouse with all the family, and golfing and hunting with his sons and grandsons.  When he and Kay built their lakehouse, they designed it with plenty of room for his kids and grandkids; the Smith’s all love being at the lake together.  He was active with his grandkids and loved planning outings with each grandchild and always saying, “I love you,” to each of them. After he retired, he took up cooking and loved preparing meals for the family.  Whether golfing, at the lake, hunting or planning the family’s next great excursion, John always made his family a priority. 

John is survived by his best friend, business partner, and wife of 50 years, Kay Lensing Smith.  He adored Kay and everyone knew it.   They were inseparable and when people referred to John it was never just John, it was always, John and Kay. He is also survived by his two sons and daughters-in-law: Jeff and Leslie Smith, Stephen and Jossie Smith; six wonderful grandchildren: Hayden, Kaylee, Sawyer, Jackson, Joseph and Alex; sister Anne Powell-Black and her husband Bob; brothers-in-law Ron Lensing and Bud Lensing; numerous nieces and nephews and his extended family at Smith Family Funeral Homes.  John was preceded in death by his oldest son, J.L. Smith, and beloved dog, Sassy.

If Papa John were reading this, he would say, “This obituary is good, but it could have been shorter!”  Sorry Papa John, you’re too good to leave any of this out.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Wolfe Street Foundation, P.O. Box 3708, Little Rock, AR 72203 or This non-profit held special meaning to John.

Visitation will be from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, Monday, November 1, 2021 at Smith North Little Rock Funeral Home.  Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 10:00 AM, Tuesday, November 2, 2021 at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 7000 JFK Boulevard, North Little Rock.  Entombment will follow at Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens, Beebe, Arkansas.

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To send flowers to John's family, please visit our floral store.


November 1, 2021

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Smith - North Little Rock Funeral Home
1921 N. Main St
North Little Rock, AR 72114

Funeral Mass
November 2, 2021

10:00 AM
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (North Little Rock)

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