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6/28/2012 11:50:00 AM
'Live with a Purpose'
Family tragedy opens Smiths' hearts to ministry
Rocky and Gail Smith bring a personal message of hope in the face of tragedy.
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Rocky and Gail Smith bring a personal message of hope in the face of tragedy.

By Thomas Lester

Rocky and Gail Smith found meaning after the darkest moment in their lives.

On Nov. 20, 2011, Rocky’s sons, Dylan and Zack, along with Ricky and Hannaleigh Suttles and Makayla Woods, were killed by his ex-wife, Mary Ann Holder. Holder then turned the gun on herself.

Rocky, a musician, sang at the funeral of the five youths. The poise and grace he showed in the face of such a trying time spurred many questions from friends and acquaintances.

“People asked what I was on, because I sang at the funeral. I said ‘Jesus,’” Rocky says.

Empowered by their faith, the Smiths, who live in Summerfield, felt the call to bring that message to other people struggling with problems in their lives – plus it helps them to cope with their own pain.

“I met with a preacher who said ‘Man, I don’t know how you get up in the morning.’ I said it’s the strength of God,” Rocky says. “For us, there are days that we don’t want to get out of bed. We’ve got a picture on our wall that says ‘Live With A Purpose.’ Gail tells people that we wake up with a purpose. Some days, that purpose is to get out of bed. We go to work and do our thing at work and try to be encouraging. Even at work, we’ve had people walk up and say, ‘Seeing you, you don’t know what it does to encourage us.’ That’s what our ministry is all about; we want to encourage the believer and the non-believer.”

Rocky Smith Ministries also serves to bring attention to mental illness, domestic violence and organ donation. Gail says 23 lives were saved as a result of their family’s tragedy, not including recipients of corneas, eyes and tissues, and the family has received numerous letters that tug on the heartstrings.

“For us, we know they’re living on,” she says. “One of the things we talk about is that unless you’re in that situation, you don’t give a lot of thought to it. But to know parents, like the ones of the little girl that got Hana’s heart – her dad said to us, ‘You have no idea what it means to be a parent and know that your child’s not going to live unless someone else’s doesn’t.’ Those feelings and the sharing that people have been doing with us cause you to step into a world you thought you would never be in. To be so close to it now, it’s such a different perspective.”

Gail says the ministry is also a great way to shine a positive light on Zack and Dylan’s good deeds.

“We didn’t want the tragedy to be what the boys are remembered for because there was so much more to them than that,” she stresses. “Their legacy is about all the great things they did and the heart they had for people they knew and didn’t even really know.”

Rocky says Zack, 14, was a competitor in almost every aspect of life, which makes his final victory all the more bittersweet.

“To know Zack, if we were sitting here and we were going to go out to the car, he had to beat you to the car. He was very competitive,” Rocky says. “There was a fundraiser before this happened and they sold raffle tickets. I gave him some money and he bought some tickets. We didn’t find out until after that he had won, but he gave the money back. He wanted a 4-wheeler so bad; that was all I heard. They made him take his $20 back (cost of the tickets) but he gave the rest back and told them not to tell anybody.”

Dylan had a big heart, Rocky says. The 17-year old once visited a classmate who had cancer to talk him out of suicide.  Dylan planned on enlisting in the Marine Corps. After the tragedy, a Marine friend of Rocky’s gave him his boot camp ring, which was buried with Dylan.

Rocky says Dylan wanted to be sure when he made it to training, his fellow Marines knew where he stood in life.

“Some while ago, he called me and said, ‘Dad, I want a tattoo,’” Rocky recalled. “I said no way. Then I asked what he wanted and he said he wanted Philippians 4:13, which is ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’ tattooed on his chest so when he went into the Marines, people would know who he belonged to.”

Their strong faith, along with those positive memories, keep the Smiths going. Both aspects are central in their message.

“We don’t want it to be a sad thing. That’s the triumph through tragedy,” Rocky says. “I want to make people laugh and there’s joy in serving Christ.  You can be saddened, but in your saddest time, you can have joy if you know where your strength is coming from.”

For more information, or to book the Smiths, visit

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