Mary and her husband, Verne


Mary Ross Smith is an author, speaker, and insurance agent. She was born in Shreveport, LA. She is the youngest of five children. Her family moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1947. 

Her mother was the founder of a prominent African-American mortuary in California. She spent her youth playing and working in the funeral business.

In 1964, as a new parent, Mary decided to leave the funeral industry. She took a position with a local bank as a general ledger bookkeeper. 

Seeking a more challenging career, she began working for a large corporation in production control, where she was employed for ten years.

Mary felt that she needed more fulfillment in her life and decided to become an entrepreneur. She determined that a career as a life insurance agent would give her the challenge and freedom she desired. Life Insurance sales proved to be the right niche for her. She enjoyed helping people plan for their future and protect their loved ones.

In 2003, she was awoken at 3:00 am and felt inspired to write her story. That's when she first began developing  her first book. During that time, she knew her story was something to share and would inspire others. 

Soon after she began documenting her story, Mary attended the 2003 Maui’s Writers Conference and in 2004, her first book, Soul Survivor, was published through AuthorHouse. She also attended the Los Angeles Book Expo in 2004. In 2006 and 2007, she spoke at the Black Expo in Phoenix, AZ. In 2008, She attended the Natchez, MS Literary Conference and did a book signing at a local bookstore.

She has had numerous radio interviews including Tony Brown KAYT 88.1 in Alexandria, LA. In 2010, South Mountain Community College, Phoenix, AZ. (Soul Survivor) was used as a required read for Human Development Social and Multi-Cultural Psychology class.  In 2013, she was a guest for interview on ABC “Carrying the Message with Marcel Williams. 

Mary is a frequent visitor at Book Clubs, and Guest Speaker. Her travels have taken her to Chicago, Mississippi. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, AZ.  

Mary has one adult son and two grandsons. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband Verne W. Smith who is an Insurance professional. 

Stories and Articles


The Patrick William Salvo Agency

Little Black Girl Talks with the Dead SOUL SURVIVOR Tells Real-Life Tale of Death/Rebirth

"Little Mary" Reese lives a hard life. Growing up in Los Angeles During the 1950's and 60's, Mary must deal with many problems which most children her age have never even imaged, let alone lived.

As the daughter of Mary Resse Sr., Mary is considered to be very lucky by all the people of her neighborhood. Her mother is the owner of a well-respected funeral home and the daughter of JT Stone, one of the most well-known and esteemed black businessmen in the South.

Although greatly respected in her Los Angeles community, Mary Rees Sr. has a very dark side. At night, she throws drunken parties, allowing strange men into her home to drink the hours away. The alcohol changes Mary into a mean and bitter woman. one who verbally and at time physically, abuses her children. Little Mary must endure nights of being neglected and kept awake by the loud fights from her mother's parties. At the age of twelve, Mary must deal with the advances of the men her mother invites over. Although her days are not so bad, she spends them working at the funeral home, nights are almost unbearable. Mary lives in constant fear that she will never be able to defend herself should the need arise. Mrs. Reese only accuses her daughter of leading them on. Life is beginning to seem hopeless for Mary and she seriously considers suicide. 

It is at this point that Mary Reese Sr., after her marriage to a man named Tom, decides to move her family back to Mississippi. She never truly wanted to leave and sees now as her opportunity to get out of Los Angeles. Selling her share of the funeral home, Mary Reese packs her husband and daughter into the car and begins the journey.

When they arrive, Mary is greeted by and entire family she never even knew existed. Aunts, uncles, and cousins surround her and, for the first time, Mary feels that she is a part of a family. She spends her days attending school and listening to her uncle's stories about her grandfather, the great JT Stone. Despite this feeling of security, Mary misses Los Angeles. There she does not have to worry about lynchings and drinking fountains that are for "Colored Only". After several months in Mississippi, Mary Reese Sr. tires of Southern life and decides to move back to Los Angeles. Little Mary is ecstatic.

Upon returning to Los Angeles, things only become worse than ever. Mary Reese opens another funeral parlor on the East side of town. Mary is forced to leave her school and the few friends she has made. Junior high school is not much better than grammar school for Mary. Her nights are spent fending off strange men and responding to her mother's call like a servant. During the day, Mary tries to find interest in school, but her grades slowly slip and she falls into a deeper and deeper depression.

By the time she is fourteen, Mary is convinced that things can only get better. She will be starting high school and looks forward to spending time with the small circle of friends she has developed. However, her mother has another plan. Moving the family to the West Side, Mrs. Reese forces Mary once again to leave her school and friends. Little Mary hopes that the move will mellow her mother, but even this does not seem to help. The parties at night become worse and Mary begins to fear for her safety. Mary Reese seems to take malicious please in turning her children against one another. Although Mary is the only one still living at home, her older brother and sister over come over for the nightly parties. Mary Reese spends her time turning her older daughter, Lenore, into an alcoholic while whispering nasty rumors about the siblings to one another.

Just as Mary appears to be at her lowest point of self-esteem, hording her mother's sleeping pills for a desperate suicide attempt, her mother introduces her to Buddy, a handsome and charming young man. Mary Reese, without first discussing the matter with Mart, begins to arrange their marriage in hopes of finally being rid of the responsibility of her children. Mary, desperate to get out of her current situation, agrees. The choice spirals Mary downwards as she goes from frying pan into the fire. Although seemingly charming, Buddy turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. The couple moves from apartment to apartment trying to pay rent as Buddy drinks his way through several jobs.

After a meeting with her estranged father, Mary realizes she must take matters into her own hands. She gets a job, lying about her lack of a high school education, and uses the money for rent. Although she leaves Buddy for a short time, she is eventually convinced to return to him. This, unfortunately, sends things downhill once again. Buddy begins beating Mary worse than ever. Mary, depressed and suicidal, loses her job. Just when she tries to pick things up again, Mary find herself pregnant.

Once her son, Eddie, is born, Mary finds a new purpose in life. After determining that she will never allow Buddy to beat her in front of Eddie, Mary moves out and goes to live with her mother.   She returns to her former job where her boss, a very understanding man, helps her get back on her feet.

Mary begins to turn her life around. She works hard, even going to night school, all in order to give her son a better life. She successfully navigates her way from a cycle of abuse to a productive and happy life. After Eddie is grown, Mary finds a new purpose starting her own business and even find a new love. Twenty years after her mother's death, alone in a Beverly Hills hospital, Mary still contemplates the experiences of her childhood. While she realizes that she and her siblings will never be completely free of the mother's influence, Mary truly believes that she survived the worst to become a better person.


A Soul Survivor tells and inspirational story about a girl's drive to survive her mother's destructive abuse. Although with a few differences, this story is a great deal like Antwone Fisher. It is autobiographical and follows the journey of a child devastated by abuse at a young age. However, while Antwone Fisher focuses more on the character's struggles as an adult, this story follows Mary through the tumultuous teenage years as she learns who she is and her place in her mother's world.

One of the most interesting things about this story is the sheer resilience of the central character, Mary. Her childhood growing up in the funeral parlor is full of colorful characters, both living and deceased, that help her through the toughest times. Her mother, Mary Reese, is also an interesting character. While she is mostly seen as a bitter and vindictive, a few moments reveal her as a shattered woman. Many of the sections describing the family's time in Mississippi add a great deal of depth to her character. 

This story is an inspiring one with possibilities. 


Black History Month honored through ‘The Mind of a Child’

I found it strange when asked by a school teacher to come and talk about what it was like to grow up in the South during the Civil Rights era.

I explained that I was really raised in Los Angeles. However, I did attend school for a half-semester in Louisiana. I vividly remembered fountains marked “Colored” and others “White Only,” and in restaurants, “Colored” served in the back with take-out only.

Amazing how time flies, I had forgotten the pain that followed, knowing I was not always welcomed because I was Negro.

I explained to this kind teacher that I was very fair skinned and maybe she would want an African-American who looked African-American. 

She responded quickly that the kids needed to see that African-Americans came in all colors. I thought this is one wise teacher. Where was she when I was growing up?

Moment of truth—that morning, I thought long and hard. How would I open my hour discussion with third-graders?

I arrived early, and the teacher was as gracious in person as she had been on the telephone. She had me sit in a large, comfortable chair almost centered in the room.

The kids were out at play, I waited while the teacher settled a dispute between a couple of girls. My heart beat ever so fast. I twisted my hands, and then the door opened… they rushed in like the tide. They sat on the floor at my feet, at least 20 children, I lost count.

“Good morning,” I said. 

I asked, “Before I begin to tell you about me, first tell me what you saw when you came into the room?”

Numerous hands raised high, I gestured to another child, “I saw a white woman,” another and another, said the same thing.

A boy, with big, dark brown eyes, said, “I thought it was black history we were going to talk about. But I saw a white woman, too.” He dropped his head, almost disappointed.

The all-white class, except for him, silently watched when he quickly told me his mother was white and his father, black.

I agreed that I probably confused them, but I was an African-American woman, and I was there to share my childhood experiences with them.

I shared how, as a child, I had been hospitalized at the age of 7 with appendicitis. In Los Angeles at 7 years old, they tied one leg to the bed. At 8 years old, you were not bed down. My roommate in the hospital, of course, was 8 years old.

When my parents and siblings visited and left, she would get out of her bed and take my presents. Then she called me a “nigger.” I didn’t understand what it meant.

I cried because it sounded so offensive. It hurt my feelings more than her taking my self-esteem. I cried even more, not understanding how I could be hated for being a Negro. I thought people only disliked you if you did something to them. I hadn’t done anything; I was only 7, I truly felt unworthy.

The girl was released, and she took all my toys with her. Why didn’t her parents make her give them back?

That story touched these third-graders more than I imagined. I could see that they hurt for me, and they understood how 'names' hurt the heart.

We moved on to other stories that affected them. I mostly asked how they would react if they had a friend that was black and someone rejected him or her.

Their response amazed me. I was so proud of how strong they were; they would defend their friend if they were either black or white, it did not matter. But it is never right to hurt another person by calling or rejecting them because of the color of their skin.

The mind of a child is remarkable. I asked them what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for. One boy said, “I have a dream.” I praised his answer.

Another boy said, “I don’t want my four children to be judged for the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” My heart jumped for joy.

They truly understood what it meant. I praised their teacher and their parents, for teaching them to be responsible people.

One little girl that sat in the back and said "blacks shouldn't go to school".

“No that is not true” I answered.

I explained that it was true many, many, many years ago, blacks were not encourage to go to school, but today they go all the way.

I shared the importance of education, how that is what makes a huge difference in how we live.

How we can achieve anything if we hold on to prejudice? We can’t.

One girl asked,”If a fountain said ‘White,’ and another ‘Colored,’ since I was so white-looking, why didn’t I drink from the ‘White’ fountain? They would not know.”

“Great question,” I answered. I wanted them to think for themselves.

So, I asked, “If you were me, what would you have done?”

She paused and thought for a moment and then said, “No, because you knew you were black even if others didn’t.”

At the end of the session, I stood and all the kids hugged me, they told me I smelled nice and my breath was like mint – it was. I left on such a high. As I walked across the parking lot, I heard my name being called out from all the kids lined up to go to lunch.

“Bye, Mary, bye, Mary.”

I turned and waved – tears filled my eyes.

I reflected on my own thoughts as I walked to my car. I went hoping to help one child to not judge another because of the color of their skin, and I left knowing that I received more than I could give.

It was not the color of my skin that mattered to them, but the content of my character. 

Published by Red Rock News, Sedona, AZ