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Civic icon Rev. George Walker Smith dies at 91

Posted at 1:06 PM, Feb 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 21:01:36-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A pillar to the community and a San Diego civic icon Reverend George Walker Smith has died at 91.

For six decades, Rev. Smith was a trailblazing leader in the African American community. Smith also led Christ United Presbyterian Church of San Diego for decades.

Those who were lucky enough to cross paths with him say he was kind to all.

"We kind of thought of Rev. Smith as the black godfather of San Diego, and of this church, because he helped so many people," said Delores McNeely, a church member of 30 years.

He was the first African American to be elected in the city when he won the race for the San Diego Board of Education in 1963.

Rev. Smith started the Catfish Club, whose weekly lunches were a gathering spot for those interested in civic or political issues.

"All the political leaders in the community came, and we had this huge forum, and they listened to him. And if something were going on in the community, the first person that they would call was Rev. Smith," said McNeely.

McNeely says the forums started at the church but then moved to Channel 10 when attendance got too large.

"His legacy is going to help the community to grow, everything he did, and wanted to do," said McNeely.

Members of the congregation spoke to 10News Sunday.

"He was a person who would never say no to anyone if you asked him to do. If he couldn't do it, he found someone who could," Jewel Kelley, a member of the church said.

Rev. Smith passed away at a local hospital Saturday.