Dee Smith-Smathers | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Dee Smith-Smathers

Dee Smith-Smathers beams outside the Hinds County Courthouse on June 26, the day the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Dee Smith-Smathers beams outside the Hinds County Courthouse on June 26, the day the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Photo by Arielle Dreher.

Although Dee Smith-Smathers did not get to celebrate her 74th birthday, she did live to see her marriage to her partner of 29 years, Charlene Smith-Smathers, recognized in her home state of Mississippi. Dee lived through several struggles for equality in the South, fighting until the very end.

Dee was born in Hattiesburg in 1941, and she stayed in Mississippi until outing herself as a lesbian led to less-than-desirable living circumstances. Her partner's angry family dragged Dee's first lover out of their State Street apartment in 1962. Shortly afterward, Dee learned what the term "lesbian" meant and proudly announced her new identity to family and friends and never turned her back on that.

Around this time, Dee drove for civil-rights workers who didn't have their driver's licenses, picking up African Americans and taking them to vote. Eventually, Dee moved to Houston in 1965, where she met her wife, Charlene.

In Houston, Dee was part of the feminist movement and witnessed the rise of the Texas Homophile Educational Movement, a group of women who advocated for lesbians with protests and funded their jail bails even before the Stonewall riots—widely known for being a catalyst for LGBT equality. Dee also helped with the LGBT Alcoholics Anonymous convention, working tirelessly for the feminist and LGBT agendas after she got sober.

Charlene and Dee started dating in 1986 and were married in Boston in February 2013. They moved to Mississippi in 1995, bought a tractor, chickens and a cow, and started their own organic farming business on the outskirts of Hinds County.

In an interview with the Jackson Free Press in June, Dee told the paper what the Supreme Court decision meant to her, and her response summed up the full life she had lived.

"We're talking 50 years of (fighting for) civil rights, of women's rights, feminism, abortion rights—and well, gay rights is always there," she said.

Dee was never afraid to speak out and live her life the way she wanted. She had struggled with several health scares since returning to Mississippi, from breast cancer to esophageal cancer to most recently, heart failure and end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She passed away peacefully Aug. 4.

About 100 people came to her memorial service at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Saturday, Aug. 8, in Raymond. Charlene said family and friends from Houston, Nashville and the Mississippi gulf all attended the service. The Rev. Richard Chiles, presided over the service and called Dee "a person who loved her friends and relatives and all of the creatures of the earth, including chickens, dogs and cats, a bird, and even a donkey."

Dee donated her body to the University Medical Center. She told Charlene before her passing that her body should warn the young med students what wild living could do to your health.

She will be lovingly remembered as a woman who fought until the end for everything she stood for and believed in—equality for all. Dee is survived by her wife, Charlene Smith-Smathers. Read more of the Smith-Smathers story here. See more Mississippi LGBT coverage at

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Richard Chiles was Dee's father. He is not Dee's father; he is the Reverend and Father of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. We apologize for this mistake.

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