April 2, 2006 – Gray Building Construction Co. owner Maurice Smith is moving out of construction and into furniture building. While he's always dabbled in making and repairing furniture, at 65, he's ready to go full time.
"Back in Nevis, in my boyhood, I was an apprentice for six months," he said, explaining how he first got interested in the craft.
Smith recently acquired the makings for lots of fine furniture when Cruz Bay Baptist Church on St. John had to take down an old mahogany tree and a white cedar tree. Branches from the white cedar tree were falling onto the school play yard, posing a danger to the students. The mahogany tree was hanging over the road.
The church hired the tree-trimming company Asplundh to cut the trees down and Smith hired a backhoe and flatbed truck to bring them up to his house. They're now sitting at the perimeter of his property waiting to be turned into furniture.
He said the white cedar tree was nearly four feet in diameter at the base and three feet in diameter at the top.
Smith said that the mahogany tree was about 50 years old. It was about eight feet in diameter at its base and more than seven feet in diameter at the top.
"The middle part of this will make a table top," he said, pointing to the mahogany tree.
He said he plans to build a set of chairs out of some of the wood to donate to Cruz Bay Baptist Church, where he and his wife, Myrtle, are members.
Smith left Nevis in 1966 after he made a trip to St. John to shop for electrical tools for the furniture business.
"I came with the intention to work and then go back," he said.
Two years later Smith and his wife, who also hails from Nevis, got married on St. John – the first couple to do so at St. Ursula's Episcopal Church, he proudly recalled. He said that changed everything and he decided to stay on St. John.
"I like it here. It seems like it's become home," he said.
More than three decades ago, he bought land in Bethany and built a house. Laughing, he said he's still working on it.
The couple has three children, Brian, Leroy and Sharon. Myrtle Smith, who works at Head Start, also has a daughter, Janice Malone. The Smiths have eight grandchildren.
Along the way, he and his wife served as the Baptist Home's house parents, but Smith soon got back into the construction business.
He said he thinks he'll still be building furniture in 10 years, but he wants to spend some of his time teaching the craft to seniors and young people.
"But I'm still trying to find the space to do it," he said, hoping that someone with space to rent will give him a call.
Reach Smith at 776-6699 or 776-1340.
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