Dr. Neilson (Neil) Amis Smith, 92, died peacefully in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 11, 2022, with family at his side. Neil was born to Presbyterian missionaries Minna Amis Smith and Cecil Hiawatha Smith in Zhenjiang (Chinkiang), Jiangsu Province, China on July 21, 1930. He lived there with his family (parents, two sisters, and two brothers) in a home formerly occupied by previous Presbyterian missionaries and parents of Pearl (Sydenstricker) Buck, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author of The Good Earth. In subsequent years, this fact became an interesting aspect of family history that led to Neil’s fascinating return to Zhenjiang with his two brothers and two of his nephews in 1988, not long before China’s tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising.
In 1941, with WWII looming, Japan had invaded and was in the process of fully occupying eastern China. The family escaped China, sailed back to America, and resettled in central Texas where his father continued to serve small Presbyterian churches there. In 1947, Neil graduated from high school in Clifton, Texas and went on to attend Austin College in Sherman, Texas where he met the love of his life and future wife, Alice Marie (Peggy) Cowan. They were married at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas on June 12, 1953. Neil graduated medical school at the University of Texas (Galveston) in 1955, completed medical military service duty (Captain, Army Reserve) at military hospitals in Denver, San Antonio, and Honolulu, and then began his private medical practice in League City, Texas. Now with three small children, Neil and Peggy moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1962 where he practiced family medicine for many years. During this time, Neil served in every office of the New Mexico Academy of Family Practice, including as its president in 1976.
Together, Neil and Peggy formed many precious friendships in Alamogordo, were very active in the community, and dearly loved beautiful southern New Mexico. They were avid bridge players in several groups and eventually “got hooked” on the very interesting and more challenging “duplicate bridge.” They took ballroom dancing lessons and had a great time practicing their skills at the Alamogordo Elks Lodge, often with locally-loved Selmo providing the tunes! Neil was an enthusiastic golfer, perhaps mostly because of his many wonderful friends on the links. He was a longtime member of the Alamogordo Noon Lions Club, again, treasuring the great friendships he had in that fine local service organization. Neil and Peggy were also longtime members of Alamogordo’s Grace United Methodist Church and faithful members of an adult Sunday School class with many much-loved friends there. Neil even sang in the church choir in the years following his wife’s death and before relocating to Albuquerque.
In later years, as enthusiastic lifelong learners, Neil and Peggy were fortunate to travel all over the US and the world, mostly by participating in several dozen Elderhostel trips with friends old and new, and several intergenerational Elderhostels with their grandchildren. Neil was an especially avid student of American history, so many of their Elderhostel trips were to learn more about that history. Throughout his life and until the end, Neil was a voracious reader, especially of American history and biographies of its fascinating leaders, particularly Abraham Lincoln and other great architects of our precious American democracy.
Following Peggy’s death in 2006, Neil remained for a time in Alamogordo and finally, to the delight of his two children living in Albuquerque, relocated there in 2012. He spent many happy years at Manzano Del Sol retirement community, enjoying great friendships with the wonderful residents and staff there. An especially enjoyable part of his life in Albuquerque was when he learned to play the ukulele and was fortunate to regularly play and perform with the very joyful and fun-loving Roadrunner Strummers. Friends and family visiting him in his Manzano Del Sol apartment would often find him busily practicing on his ukulele and organizing his several volumes of ukulele music that the group might perform in upcoming “gigs” at various Albuquerque retirement communities and other informal performance venues filled with grateful listeners of this happy music. He admitted that he wasn’t nearly as good as the other members of the group, but he dearly loved his “band” members and had a great time trying to keep up!
Throughout his life, Neil was active in his faith communities and at the time of his death, was a devoted member of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque. Members have recounted his enjoyable presence in Sunday School classes and his sometimes surprisingly in-depth knowledge of scripture. This surely owing to his childhood home-schooling in China by his teacher missionary mother!
Neil was preceded in death by his parents and beloved wife, Alice Marie (Peggy) Cowan Smith. He is survived by his three children, Sarah D. Smith - Albuquerque, Dr. Mark A. Smith - Albuquerque, and Dr. David A. Smith (Pamela) – Frisco, Texas, five much-loved grandchildren, six wonderful great-grandchildren, his sister, Martha Smith Sessler of Rochester, MN, and many other relatives and friends.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, September 23, 2022 at 2 pm at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Nob Hill, 114 Carlisle SE, Albuquerque, NM. At a later time, Neil and his wife Peggy’s cremated remains will be inurned in the Smith family plot in Big Sandy, Texas where his parents and other beloved family members are buried. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Immanuel Presbyterian Church or to a charity of your choice.
Neil was always a wonderfully cheerful spirit in the lives of so many, and he will be lovingly remembered for his joyful laughter and his kind nature. He will be greatly missed.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:7