Friends remember Highland Park native Hunter Smith as a faith-driven man who brought joy to everyone he came across. “He was a larger than life figure,” said longtime friend Ann Higginbottom.
Hunter, 29, died in April while on a weekend getaway with friends at his family ranch when the pickup truck he was riding in hit a ravine. The impact threw Hunter from the truck bed, killing him instantly.
“He never met an enemy,” Hunter’s younger sister Meredith said. “He was the sweetest, most sincere, sensitive guy.”
About a week later, Meredith and her older sister, Libby, received a text message from Higginbottom and another family friend, Ellen Kershaw. The text read, “From two sisters to two sisters,” and outlined a plan to establish a scholarship in Hunter’s name.
“It was the best way to honor him that we could ever imagine,” Meredith said.
Higginbottom serves as the executive director of Kershaw’s Challenge, an organization dedicated to helping people in need that Ellen and her husband, professional baseball player Clayton Kershaw, founded. As one of its initiatives, the Christian nonprofit partners with Arise Africa to help children in need in the small nation of Zambia.
“Hunter got plugged in several years ago,” Higginbottom said. “He made such an incredible impact. We immediately felt so moved to want to do something to honor our friend and his family.”
Hunter and Meredith traveled to Africa for the first time in 2012. She recalls his playful spirit with the kids as they flocked to him.
“They loved him – they would just crawl all over him,” Meredith said.
Hunter returned the following year, and told Meredith that he enjoyed every minute of it.
After working in Midland for a few years, Hunter recently returned to Dallas and was contemplating a larger role with Kershaw’s Challenge or Arise Africa that would take him back to Zambia.
“That’s really where his heart was,” Meredith said.
“Once Hunter’s feet hit Zambian soil, you could tell he was in his element — living out the Lord’s will for his life,” Ellen and Clayton said in an email. “Zambia changed Hunter’s life. But he also changed the lives of hundreds of children who live there.”
The day after Hunter died, Higginbottom began planning a scholarship for a worthy candidate to go to Africa in Hunter’s name. Working with Meredith and other family and friends, she began publicizing fundraising efforts on social media.
“It went crazy,” Higginbottom said. “We were not anticipating that.”
Their efforts raised $88,000, enough to send scholarship winners to Zambia for years to come. This summer, they are sending Arise Africa intern Andrea Gonzalez, who Meredith said was the perfect candidate to honor her brother.
“She was a no-brainer,” Meredith said. “We didn’t have to think twice about it.”
While still grieving over Hunter, the Smith family has strived to maintain a positive outlook. Keeping his memory alive through the scholarship has helped them cope with their loss.
“We have this wonderful community around us. It’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” Meredith said.
She credits her father with leading her family through adversity.
“He said, ‘There are two ways we can react and we are going to take the high road and fully trust that Jesus knows what he’s doing,’” Meredith said.
Meredith now serves as a liaison between the Smith family, Arise Africa, and Kershaw’s Challenge. Her goal is to continue raising funds for the scholarship so that others can continue helping people in Africa.
“He would be so honored by that,” she said.