Local governmenT officials aim to be advocates for their communities.
D.I. Smith, who serves on the board of aldermen in Ridgeland, not only aims to serve his community in this capacity, but he also calls himself a fitness advocate.
Smith encourages a healthy lifestyle and also is a big supporter of the local trail system.
“I’m ranger qualified,” he said. “I jumped out of airplanes in the 82nd airborne division, and I flew helicopters. So, fitness has always been important to me.”
Several years ago, he started competing in triathlons.
“I got a bicycle and completed seven triathlons in 2004 and 2005,” he said.
After Katrina, Smith said he put his bike away for nearly nine years. He started back riding in the spring of 2014.
He rode 12,000 miles in 2016.
“I averaged 1,000 miles a month,” he said. “I also competed in the Mississippi Senior Olympics and won silver medals in the cycling events in his age group.”
Now, he averages around 175 to 200 miles a week.
“Well, I was nearly retired from the Army when I took up cycling,” he said. “I joined the Club and was between jobs at the time, so I was participating in every activity they offered. Spin classes, body pump, swimming in the pool when they opened it. They teased me one day saying, ‘D.I. you’re doing a triathlon around here every week. Have you ever thought about signing up for one?’”
“I told my wife, ‘I believe I’d like to try one of these,’” he said. “That’s what got him started.”
Smith took office as the Alderman at Large for Ridgeland on March 1, 2012.
“I’ve always had an interest in public service,” he said. “It was something in our family…I just grew up around politics and public service and knew it was something that I could make a contribution in.”
Serving on this board, Smith said his biggest contribution has been raising awareness for the landfills in the area.
“It makes it difficult to have very much economic development in the west as a result of the large regional landfill,” he said. “I took an interest in this when I was a supervisor and just continued to watch and track it.”
Smith is originally from a small farming community in the Delta called Sidon.
His next-door neighbor became his wife, and they will soon celebrate 49 years together.
“Our first home for two weeks was west stadium at (The University of Southern Mississippi),” said Smith, who served as head resident in that dorm at the time.
At Southern Miss, Smith earned a degree in business.
“I like to say I majored in ROTC, because that was my favorite thing,” he said. “I was very active in the ROTC program.”
Smith served as captain of the rifle team for two years.
“I tell people that’s the only reason I’m here today is because I could shoot a rifle,” he said. “In other words, they kept me around when they probably could have run me off,” he added with a laugh.
In his senior year at Southern Miss, he was selected for the ROTC’s flight program. Through that, he was able to earn his private pilot’s license as a senior in college.
“I flew for the next 30 years,” he said. “I was in the Army for 30 years following graduation from USM. I flew helicopters in Vietnam and many posts here in the States where I got assigned. And down in Panama.”
He and his family spent two years living in Panama.
“My daughters will tell you now that their biggest memories are of being down there during combat operations,” he said. “All the helicopters flying around.”
His oldest daughter graduated high school in Panama in 1990.
“One of the toughest things we have ever had to do was pack up our family and bring her and drop her off at Mississippi State and then go back to Panama,” he said. “She didn’t know anyone. That was tough.”
“The Army presents a lot of unique challenges for families,” he added.
The Army is what also brought Smith to his current home in Ridgeland. He became the Inspector General with the Mississippi National Guard for three years until he retired in ’99.
He moved to Ridgeland 22 years ago.
In 2007, Smith qualified to run for supervisor in Madison County. He served on the Board of Supervisors for four years.
He later became the Alderman at Large in Ridgeland.