Anne Ford Smith Yates

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Anne Ford Smith Yates, 92, died peacefully at her home Sunday, May 24, 2009.

Born June 17, 1916, she was the daughter of William Ford Smith Jr. and Anne Walker Smith of Magee. She also was predeceased by her beloved husband, Ford W. Yates Sr.; and son, Ford Yates Jr.

Mrs. Yates, brought up with the unfailing strength of character inherited from her parents, was a source of inspiration to all whose paths she crossed, including through the years following her husband’s untimely death, leaving her with three young children to raise, and again after the death of her only son at age 20.

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As a loving, devoted wife, mother and grandmother, gifted musician, teacher of children and cherished friend to several generations whose lives she touched, she was greatly admired and loved in return.

An honors graduate of Magee High School, she attended Blue Mountain College, where she earned in four years degrees in music and English and a master’s degree in music, frequently called upon to accompany on piano numerous orchestral performances and recitals. She married Collins native Ford Yates in 1942, but they spent most of their first three years of marriage apart while he worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in North Africa designing military airfields during World War II. She taught school in Greenville during that time.

After his return, they settled in Vicksburg where Mr. Yates, a prominent community leader, was employed by the Corps of Engineers. With the birth of their children, Mrs. Yates immersed herself in their lives. Among her countless youth-centered contributions, she served as PTA president for all three schools her children attended, organized the Juvenile Music Club and a children’s garden club, and agreed to teach private piano lessons when time allowed. She single-handedly reorganized the children’s music program at First Baptist Church where she directed children’s choirs for 50 years, honored in 2005 by the Mississippi Baptist Convention as the longest continuously serving children’s choir director in the state.

A gifted musician and composer, she was recognized by the Mississippi Baptist Convention for a sacred prelude she wrote, and although she was often encouraged to have her works published, she modestly declined. Another of her compositions, “The Lord Is My Refuge and Strength,” was also a source of great strength to many.

Her church service also included many committed years as a faithful adult choir member, Bible school and prayer meeting accompanist, Sunday school teacher, GA leader and WMU president. For years, into her 80s, she volunteered at Heritage House Nursing Home to provide music during the weekly Sunday service. She often returned to visit and comfort the residents, many of whom were younger than she. She also served as a teacher in the church’s ministry to disadvantaged children in the city and was pianist for services at the Gateway Rescue Mission.

Mrs. Yates was a director of her church’s kindergarten program for many years and then became the revered music teacher at Culkin Academy public elementary school where she directed countless children’s programs. The Vicksburg-Warren County chapter of the Mississippi Education Association honored her in 1980 with its highest award, the Hall of Fame. After her retirement, she taught 2-year-olds and music at Small World preschool.

Always involved in the community she loved, she distinguished herself in a number of leadership roles. She was active in AAUW, served on the board of the Salvation Army, successfully led a county-wide inoculation program and served for years as president of the Floral Garden Club, which voted to disband when she gave up the presidency. She was actively engaged in the ongoing beautification of the Ford W. Yates playground, named for her late husband in recognition of his untiring efforts as community leader, including volunteer programs such as recreation and baseball coaching, that enriched the lives of young people throughout the city.

Mrs. Yates was president of the Bowmar Avenue Elementary School PTA at the time of his death in 1958, but she chose to continue to serve. Through the years, she was a surrogate mother figure to countless children, willingly driving them to and from activities when their own parents were unable to do so.

She found much joy and pride in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including teaching them at her piano and accompanying her grandsons on their violins. She delighted in attending their programs, recitals, plays and athletic events and simply spending time with them, doing special things together she reserved for them alone. She also enjoyed hearing of the accomplishments of the many hundreds of young people whose lives she influenced, including those who wrote or told her as adults that they had chosen music or teaching careers as a result of her example. Her children and grandchildren will miss the little poems and scriptures she sent, or answering their telephones, only to hear her playing, “It Had To Be You.” She was featured in The Vicksburg Post in 2005 for the inspiration of her life. Though she had lost some cognitive ability in recent years, she never lost her incomparable touch at the piano or her sweet spirit.

Survivors include daughters, Linda Y. Bryant of Vicksburg and Nancy Y. Stevens of Jackson (husband Leo Stevens); daughter-in-law, Debbie Anding of Vicksburg; five grandchildren, Chip Bryant of Brandon, Brandi Hoxie of Vicksburg, Randy Yates of Katy, Texas, Leo Stevens IV of New York City and Ford Stevens of New Haven, Conn., and Jackson; and three great-grandchildren, Hallie Hoxie of Vicksburg and Bradyn and Davis Yates of Katy.

Funeral services for Mrs. Yates will be at 3 today at Fisher Funeral Home with burial to follow at Cedar Hill Cemetery. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service, which will be officiated by Dr. John G. McCall, Dr. Matt Buckles and the Rev. Jim Hess.

Pallbearers will be her adored grandsons and son-in-law.

Those wishing to memorialize Mrs. Yates may contribute to the Anne Ford Smith Yates Music Fund of First Baptist Church, 1607 Cherry St., Vicksburg, MS, 39180.

The family wishes to express heartfelt appreciation for the loving care given Mrs. Yates by Dr. George Patton, special caregivers Lucille Ross and the staff of Gilbert Home Health, and the staff of Baptist Adult Day Health Services.