BRIDPORT — Tjepke “James” Smits, 71, passed away Sunday April 28, 2019, at his youngest son’s house in Goose Creek, S.C. Diagnosed less than six months previously with malignant neoplasm of renal pelvis, he made the most of his time with his children and grandchildren before taking his last breath peacefully in his sleep.
Tjepke leaves on earth his two sons, Pieter Tjepke Smits and Timothy Ray Smits, as well as their mother and his ex-wife of 22 years, Catherine Husk Whatley. Pieter (41) is married to Tiffany and has three biological children Alisandra (19), Noelle (15), and Tjepke (4), in addition to two stepdaughters, Leah (19) and Emily (14). Timothy, who Tjepke lived with for the last year, is 37.
Other relatives include 20 nieces and nephews from five siblings and their spouses: Dirk and Kay Smits, Bernard and Lilian Smits, Antje and Jacob Haaijema, Josephine and John Bigilow, and Billy and Joan Smits. Two close friends of the family, Veronica Benton and Susan Kathyrn Whatley-Pack, were with him during his final months.
Tjepke joins in heaven his parents and a brother. His father, Pieter Smits, passed when he was 93 and mother, Alice Smits, originally Atje Renzema, met the Lord when she was 82. Shortly after starting his military career, his brother, Jay Jitse Smits, died at 15 in a tragic accident.
Born in Berlikum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, and raised in Belsum, Friesland, The Netherlands, Tjepke immigrated to Bridport, Vt., with his family when he was nine and started attending Bridport Elementary School being unable to speak English. Growing up on the family farm, he spent his time learning about gardening, carpentry, and machinery, which was useful when he joined “Uncle Sam’s Army” in 1966.
He spent 22 of his next 25 years working with army vehicles and machinery at over ten bases and forts around the world, including two tours in Vietnam, one in Korea, and one in Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. James, as many knew him, received a multitude of honors because of his hard work, patience, and dedication to do right, such as the Chaplain Award, five-time Army Good Conduct Medalist, and the Army Commendation Medal. He retired at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as Sergeant First Class E-7.
After retiring from the military, his second career of 26 years was long distance truck driver. He loved going to different places, meeting new people, and enjoying books on tape as he drove hundreds of hours every month. He retired from Terry Hill Trucking, a man and company he respected and enjoyed working for.
Viewing is Friday, May 17, at the Bridport Congregational Church from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The funeral service starts at 3 p.m. with burial and a celebration of life following in the Masonic Hall. All family and friends are invited.
Tjepke Smits was a devout Christian and loved reading books by Christian authors. The family asks that you support your local Christian book store in his name.◊