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Sports: After fire destroys a collection, ‘Legendary Fan’ is rebuilding

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The University of South Carolina regards Jimmy Smith of Pawleys Island as a “Legendary Fan.”

He was presented a plaque declaring his elite status in 2009 during the Gamecocks’ football game with South Carolina State. That plaque was lost in a fire, along with a treasure trove of sports memorabilia, when Smith’s real estate office on Highway 17 burned earlier this year.

Smith’s friends are beginning to help him replace some of the things he lost. Ray Tanner, director of athletics at the University of South Carolina, sent Smith a duplicate “Legendary Fan” plaque, and officials with the Gamecock Club replaced another plaque presented when he was the 2001 Georgetown County member of the year.

“It really hurt when I lost those things in the fire,” Smith told the Gamecock publication Spurs & Feathers last month, “and I said, ‘Those things can’t be replaced.’ They said, “Well, we’ll replace them for you.’ So that was just super of him and the Gamecock Club.”

Tanner also gave Smith baseball bats from South Carolina’s College World Series championship teams, and former Gamecock star Jackie Bradley Jr. signed them.

“I’ve been really fortunate in that,” Smith said.

Still, there were mementos lost in the fire that can never be replaced, but Smith has the memories to treasure and a stronger relationship with the USC director of athletics.

“Jimmy is one of the most passionate Gamecock fans I have ever met,” Tanner said. “His love for Carolina is unconditional. Hearing the story of how he lost so much of his Gamecock memorabilia was heartbreaking. I am glad that we could help him recover some of his lost mementos. They bring back so many great Gamecock memories for him.”

Smith, a 1968 graduate of the University of South Carolina, said he found himself traveling from Columbia to Pawleys Island almost every weekend during summers when he was young. He went into the real estate business here in 1973 and established his own firm, James W. Smith Real Estate Co.

Smith has missed just one home Gamecock football game in those 40 years — it was for the wedding of a friend’s daughter — and goes to as many road games as he can. He made the trip to Missouri last month and witnessed South Carolina’s thrilling come-from-behind victory over the previously undefeated Tigers.

Smith began his friendships with Gamecock coaches when June Raines and Mark Berson came to the beach and stayed at his properties. The coaches talked about Pawleys Island when they went home, and others soon followed.

“Throughout the years, we’ve had numerous coaches from South Carolina come down and stay with us,” Smith said. “Getting to know them, going out to eat with them and having breakfast with them is just a real treat.”

Smith said he and the late Jim Carlen, USC football coach, grew to be close friends. A football signed by Carlen was lost in the fire.

“Jim came up here and rented a place from me, and we all went out to eat,” Smith said. “I got to know him pretty well. He would come here about four times a year, sometimes more than that.”

Smith said Carlen would call him regularly, and they would talk football. “He always used to joke around with me,” Smith said, “and he was quite a storyteller.”

Smith’s sports memorabilia collection began with one football and grew. “Over time we got a nice collection of items,” he said, “and people would like to come down and see what everybody had brought in.”

Lost in the fire were paintings by artist Tom Gallo of coaches Tanner, Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. His collection wasn’t all Gamecock gear. It included items from Charlie Strong, Charlie Weis, John Fox, Tony Dorsett, Rick Flair and Roy Williams. Coach Fox gave Smith a signed Carolina Panthers helmet and replaced it with one from his new team, the Denver Broncos.

Smith said losing most of his collection was painful but finding people willing to help restore it has helped him move on from the fire and start making new memories.

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