George Richard “Buddy” Smith passed away Friday, November 10th at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital. Buddy was born in Lineville, Alabama on January 31, 1942, to George W. and Christine Smith. In 1945, the family moved from Oak Ridge, Tennessee where his father was working on the atomic energy project to the Fort Walton area for the construction of the McKinley Climatic Laboratory. Buddy attended Fort Walton Elementary and graduated from Choctawhatchee High School (class of 1960) and Okaloosa-Walton Junior College. In September 1965, Buddy flew his little 1947 Ercoupe to North Carolina and brought back fellow Choctaw grad Becky Brothers, who had just graduated from Wake Forest College. They were married at Eglin Chapel One and recently celebrated their 58th anniversary.
Buddy began his career in the building industry while still in high school – working as an electrician’s helper and for Seavey Metalworks as a sheet metal worker building and installing metal duct work in base housing. After college, he began working for Air Conditioning Engineers in Fort Walton Beach. He progressed from installer, estimator, and general manager to vice president and part owner of the company. Buddy held state licenses for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing and was instrumental in creating Plumbersmith, Inc. in 1969 and Fort Walton Electric, Inc. in 1973. In 1975, he obtained his general contractor’s license and started his own general contracting and development company, Walton Properties, Inc. Since that beginning, Walton Properties has developed over a thousand projects – custom homes, spec homes, townhomes, apartments, commercial buildings, and warehouses in Okaloosa, Walton, and Santa Rosa counties.
Walton Properties’ first large project was the development of New Port Dixie in Shalimar in 1978. The one hundred acres were partially occupied by a mobile home park and were rapidly replaced by over 300 single-family and patio homes – where a new 1500sf home could be purchased for $27,500 including the lot. Buddy was the contractor on hundreds of custom homes from Santa Rosa County to Baker to Gulf Front beach homes on 30A in South Walton. Other projects included Eglin Office Center and the Tech Center Office Park in Shalimar and Courtyard Plaza in Fort Walton Beach, Tanglewood II in Wright, Sleepy Hollow in Mary Esther, Shalimar Cottages and Summerwood in Shalimar, Old Fort Walton redevelopment on Brooks Street in Fort Walton Beach and Lovejoy and Blake Warehouses in the Fort Walton Beach Industrial Park. In 2002, Buddy had the vision to purchase 3,000 acres of timberland in Freeport, Florida and would become the founder of Hammock Bay in Freeport. Buddy’s company, Walton Properties and Construction, Inc., built the Welcome Center, Clubhouse, and Fitness Center and closed over 450 lots before selling his interest in the property in 2006.
Buddy was a member of the Okaloosa-Walton Building Industry Council, serving on the Board of Directors, as a State Director, and as a Development Council chairman. He was a member of the Fort Walton Board of Adjustments for five years and a member of the Okaloosa County Construction Industry Licensing Board for 25 years.
Buddy loved to hunt and fish. He was a member of the Fort Walton Beach Sailfish Club and winner of many categories of their tournament – including Top Sports Fisherman. Buddy was recruited to go to Midway Island in the Pacific to evaluate the feasibility of creating a sport fishing destination – which became a brief reality in 1996 before the Island was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He enjoyed many trips with friends on his own boats – the “Hammerhead” – and later “No Problem” (which was his response to his customers no matter what change order they wanted). When his knees kept him out of the captain’s chair, the boys made him a tree stand he could climb. He purchased land in north Walton County where he spent most Saturdays hunting in season, getting ready to hunt off-season, or managing the tree farm. He wanted “the farm” to be a place for his family to enjoy – and all of the kids and grandkids definitely did – Becky, not so much (no facilities!). If you rode with him you had to listen to “Willy’s Roadhouse” for two hours - kudos to Saturday buddy, Bruce Aplin, who became his chauffeur in recent years.
Buddy is survived by his wife, his sons; Rob and Jamie (Jennifer) and his daughter; Kristy Brooks (Don). He is also survived by his grandchildren; Tanner Smith, Hunter and Logan Smith, Shelby and Jordan Harkins, Bailey and Trevor (Jessa) Brooks, and honorary granddaughter; Reese Overman. Buddy was great-granddaddy to baby Luella Ann Brooks and the light of his life for the last three years; Sutton McKenna Harkins. He is also survived by his sister; JoAnn Elrod (Dave) and brother; Jim. He was preceded in death by his brother David, and his sister Jean Graves.
Visitation will be Saturday, November 18th, from 1 to 1:30 P.M. at Emerald Coast Funeral Home, 161 Racetrack Road NW with services at 1:30 p.m. Interment will follow at Beal Memorial Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to American Parkinson Disease Association, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, American Lung Association, or your favorite charity.