There is a common expression used in football: “Leave it all on the field.” It means to give your all, hold nothing back; direct all your strength and energy towards fulfilling the job assigned. Bruce Smith personified this concept in more ways than one.
Smith was born in Gainesville, Texas in 1949. For an African American, this was a less than hospitable time period in which to live – it would be another 14 years until Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Cultural oppression, combined with an absent father, who left the family when Smith was 3 years old, awakened something – anger.
The young man had a knack for getting into trouble. “Bruce was certainly angry; you could see it on the football field,” said a long-time co-worker and friend. Football was Smith’s release, his vent, his opportunity to escape a life of segregation and neglect.
In 1967, Smith accepted a football Scholarship to the University of Colorado. There he flourished as an athlete, and learned the important principles of hard work and focus. After his college years, number 61 would play for 8 years as a Defensive Tackle in the Canadian Football League, becoming a Grey Cup winner, defensive player of the year, and the captain of the Toronto Argonauts.
The reputable Smith then applied his hard-working nature to the world of business; starting his own real estate company after becoming one of the top-selling realtors in the nation. Wealth and fame – what more could one ask for? That very same question was asked to Smith in 1994. While attending a seminar, he was asked: “If you could have anything in life, what would it be?”
Smith took out a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle. On the left side it said, “What I have”, on the right, “What I want.” After taking an inventory of his finances, property, cars, and fame, a single word was written on the right: “Peace.” His search for peace began, and was soon answered. “In finding Christ, I found peace,” he said simply.
A friend and co-worker of Smith’s said that he spent time every day with his Heavenly Father; something he never experienced in
natural terms. Over time, the Lord transformed this once angry individual into a man of burning passion. His anger, just as strong, was now directed against poverty, injustice, and so called “purposelessness” that he often saw in youth.
Smith would spend the next 13 years working as a chaplain in the city of Toronto, where he made an invaluable impact on the lives of the people he touched. “Pastor Bruce was a true example of Christ in a lot of our lives,” remarked one young lady moved by his ministry. Friends and mentees of Smith have said that when he spoke to them or interacted with them, they felt like they were the most important person to him. The giant among men became a father figure to hundreds of hurting and angry young men and women throughout the city.
He traveled and ministered, met personally with troubled youth, who related to him in a very special way. Before his passing in January of 2013 Smith wrote the book, Our Father: Father to the Fatherless, a story about hope that illustrates how through the saving power of Jesus Christ, we can all conquer our demons and triumph. His genuine passion and inspirational testimony have impacted the lives of thousands throughout Canada. Bruce Smith left it all on the field.