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Cancer victim brings joy to others

Mizpah Health Care Center residents enjoy the karaoke singing of Lacy Smith (far right), a throat cancer survivor. Smith regularly entertains area nursing home residents singing. (Photo by Larry Chowning)
by Larry S. Chowning

When Lacy Smith of Revis sings karaoke at Mizpah Health Care Center in Locust Hill, the music of years past touches the minds and hearts of the residents as their hands start clapping and their feet start tapping.

Several times a month, Smith volunteers his time to sing karaoke for residents of six different nursing homes in the area.

Smith’s family moved to Urbanna in the late 1950s from North Carolina when he was a teenager. He grew up on a tobacco farm and when he moved to Urbanna he brought a bit of Carolina toughness with him.

He was a football star at Middlesex High School and was perhaps the only MHS gridiron player in school history to play barefooted. This lasted until the league and coaches required him to wear cleats. A fullback for MHS, Smith felt he could run faster with no shoes.

He married a local girl, Daisy Edwards, and they eventually moved to Vermont, raised their family there, and Smith worked in the construction business. After retiring several years ago, he moved back to the county. 

Recently, Smith was diagnosed with throat cancer. The cancer was on the back part of his tongue and it required part of his tongue to be removed.

“I don’t have any muscles on the left side of my mouth,” said Smith. “I had to learn how to eat, talk and sing all over again. Truth is, I never could sing very good, but I loved to sing. Now, I’m an even worse singer.”

The operation left Smith with a slight change in his voice.

“As a kid, I always wanted to sing, but my parents said I wasn’t any good,” he said. “You grow up loving music, and even if you can’t sing you want to try.”

Before his bout with cancer, Smith told his wife he was going to buy a karaoke machine and start singing for family gatherings. One of his relatives, who worked at Mizpah, heard his performances and suggested he come and entertain the residents there.

After several performances, Smith was so entertaining that the word got around to other nursing homes and, before long, he was performing karaoke at six sites in Middlesex, Gloucester, West Point and Mathews.

“They enjoy it and they have a good time,” said Smith. “I tell Daisy the one thing I have going for me is that most of the residents are unable to get up and leave. I’ve got a captive audience.

“Some get up and dance, and some just tap their feet and clap their hands,” said Smith. “It’s very enjoyable to see people enjoy themselves. I sing a lot of old rock-and-roll and country music, and they love it because it reminds them of when they were young.

“I would rather go to the nursing homes and sing for free than to go somewhere and get paid for it,” he said. “The old people really enjoy it because they need the attention.

“My cancer might come back tomorrow and I’ll be gone, but for now I’m doing what I want,” he said. 

When Smith was diagnosed with throat cancer, doctors pointed to smoking as the cause. “I smoked when I was a child,” said Smith. “I was raised on a tobacco farm in North Carolina where I started smoking and chewing as a kid.

“My advice to others is to stop smoking right now,” Smith said. “Fighting cancer was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Stop smoking and take up karaoke. It’s a lot more fun!”

posted 09.30.2009

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