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Clara White Mission chef remembered as ‘gentle giant’

Chef, 51, died from COVID-19

The "backbone" of Clara White Mission, 51-year-old volunteer Keith Smith started passed away this week from COVID-19.
The "backbone" of Clara White Mission, 51-year-old volunteer Keith Smith started passed away this week from COVID-19.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Keith Smith worked at Clara White Mission for more than three decades, most of those years in the kitchen. He started as a volunteer at age 14.

This friend to all who knew him died this week from COVID-19. He was 51 years old.

“If you needed his help, he would do it. No problems, just ask. He was a very influential person. He influenced the neighborhood, the community with good things, teaching people how to better themselves,” said Marcus Thompkins, Smith’s nephew.

Thompkins said his uncle was vaccinated. Another family member told News4Jax that Smith’s brother is also fighting COVID-19.

At a funeral for Smith on Saturday morning at the Scottish Rites Masonic Cathedral downtown, former student Monica Johnson remembered him as a “kind, sweet, gentle giant.”

Loved ones celebrated the life of longtime Clara White Mission chef Keith Smith on Saturday. (WJXT)

Tiffany Paulk was also one of Smith’s students.

“Keith was one of my favorite teachers, and we shared some good times together, and I am really going to miss him,” said Paulk. “He taught me how to cook ribs. He taught me a lot of stuff.”

Calvin Reed knew Smith for over 20 years.

“He was my best friend, my coworker. He was my brother, my mentor, my instructor, overall, just a great person,” said Reed.

Reed said Smith gave everything he had to the Clara White Mission.

“I know Eartha and Clara White are looking down on him and saying ‘job well done my good and faithful servant,’” Reed said.


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An Emmy-nominated TV reporter and weekend anchor.