James Smith, known as Smitty, prepares to make deliveries for Ensign Florist. He retired in 1996 after working 40 years at the stamp window of the Rossville post office. Then he took a temporary part-time job delivering flowers, and 18 years later, has no plans to retire again.Photo by John Rawlston.
James Smith pulls a white van into the driveway at Ensign Florist on South Crest Road on a recent afternoon. He has delivered flowers all morning, and he has a few more things to pick up before he makes another run.
He is wearing a tie (he even wears a tie on his days off) and a nylon windbreaker. He also wears the pleasant attitude of someone who obviously enjoys people and his job.
“You can take some flowers to somebody, and you can just see their face light up. Like a lady I took some to over there on Gunbarrel Road this morning — a big bouquet — I mean it was huge. I walked in and said, ‘You’ve either done something bad or something good. It could work either way,’” he says with a chuckle.
“She says, ‘Oh, I’ve done something good. This is my anniversary,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m glad I got you some.’ I kid around with people like that. I guess I have a knack of doing stuff like that. That’s the only way to live. If you’re a Christian, that’s the only way to be.”
Smith has always worked with the public since he got out of the Army and got a job with the Rossville post office, where he worked for 40 years. “I worked the stamp window. Everybody calls me Smitty. Everybody around Rossville knows me as Smitty, and that’s it. My mother is the only one that ever called me James.”
He retired from the post office in 1996. After he got home from running an errand, his wife of 60 years greeted him at the door and said, “I’ve got you a job!” Longtime family friend Bill Ensign had called and said he needed a delivery driver for two weeks while another driver was sick.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll go up there for two weeks,’ and that was 18 years ago. I’m still here. They can’t get rid of me.”
Smith, who is 83, doubts he will retire.
“I’ll probably die here,” he said. “The reason I go to work is I have to rest up. The three or four days I’m off from here my wife almost kills me. I have so much to do, so I have to come back here to rest up.”
John Rawlston is a staff photographer with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, where he has worked since the merger of Chattanooga’s two daily newspapers in 1999. He worked as a staff photographer for the Chattanooga News-Free Press (later the Chattanooga Free Press) starting in 1976. Prior to that, he worked for a year as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, Tenn. John graduated from Soddy Daisy High School in 1971. He graduated ...