LAWRENCEVILLE – It was Saturday, Oct. 17, and people had come to celebrate the life of William C. “Doc” Washington who died on Oct. 8.
Tracie Seward, Administrator at Envoy, a Registered Nurse, a youth minister and member of the Brunswick County School Board, and James Smith, a resident of the Brodnax area and member of American Legion Post 65, had joined with a large crowd of family and friends at the graveside service for Washington and while they had never met before, the day would bring them together in a way that they could never have predicted.
Smith was a participant, before the service, with the American Legion in the Positivity Parade in downtown Lawrenceville honoring Washington. After the parade, Smith and the other post members continued to the graveside service where they stood in formation.
When the service began, Seward was standing at end of the funeral tent near the last row of seats, beside a friend. Smith was standing with the rest of the American Legion members just outside the tent. Seward says she noticed Smith come out from under the tent and sit down. It was at that moment that she thought something wasn’t right.
“Clint McMillan was talking to Mr. Smith who was holding his head down,” said Seward. “Mr. McMillan went to get him some water and I guess my nursing instinct took charge and I went over and ask him if he was ok. He was sweating profusely and was cold.”
Seward was talking to Smith asking him different health questions when things turned dire.
“Before he could answer my last question he let out a breath and I just knew what was happening,” said Seward. “I knew it was his last breath, I have seen it many times during my nursing career.”
Several people helped lay Smith on the ground and Seward checked for a pulse and could not find one. Seward asked if anybody knew CPR and started chest compressions on Smith.
Sgt. 1st Class Allen Saito and two other soldiers from Fort Lee were detailed as support for Washington’s Funeral. Saito, who had medical training, came to help Seward.
“I did two rounds of chest compressions and then Sgt. Saito took over and did about 10-15 rounds of compressions when Mr. Smith gasp for air. We checked for a pulse and it was faint,” said Seward. “So I started talking to him telling him to stay with me and we put him in the recovery position with his feet up and something under his head until the rescue squad arrived and took over.”
Smith said the situation just came over him suddenly after he got to the cemetery.
“I started getting hot and so I backed out of formation. Post Commander Clint McMillan went and got me a chair and water. When I came to everybody was around me and they were getting me ready to be put in the rescue squad.”
“I take blood thinners and heart medicine and I didn’t eat breakfast that morning, which probably didn’t help,” said Smith. “They wanted to take me to the hospital but I didn’t want to go. They suggested I see my doctor and they released me and then I called my wife and she came and followed me back home.”
Smith says he feels good. He has been to his doctor and has some follow- up doctor’s appointments and test to be completed in Richmond but overall feels ok.
“I am wearing a heart monitor now and they will look at that and I will go see a specialist in Richmond,” said Smith. “They are going to run a series of test to see what is going on.”
Smith, who was born in Shelby, North Carolina, said he and his wife Michele moved to the area in 2006 because they just liked the area.
“It had everything we wanted. Its two hours from the beach, the mountains, Raleigh and Richmond. Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston are nearby. It’s just a great place to live,” said Smith.
Smith served active duty in Army from 1968-1970. He was in the 12th Engineer Battalion in Germany. He also served two years active duty in the reserves and two additional years inactive duty.
“You just never know what the day is going to bring,” said Smith. “I am just thankful that Tracie and Sgt. 1st Class Saito were there to help in my time of need. It was a blessing. I am not sure I would be here today had it not been for their know-how and quick action. They have my greatest admiration and gratitude and will always have a place in my heart. I guess you could say they were at the right place at the right time.”
The next day after the emergency, Seward received a phone call from Smith and his wife.
“They were so appreciative and thankful for what had been done to save him,” said Seward. “They even sent me flowers. I am just happy it turned out OK and we were able to bring him back. It becomes emotional every time I talk or think about it.”
Seward’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. On Friday, Nov. 6, American Legion Post 65 presented a plaque to Seward. Smith joined Seward for the presentation.
Russell Blackwell, Post Adjunct, says the organization wanted to acknowledge and thank Seward for her role in saving the life of Smith.
“On Nov. 6, 2020 American Legion Post 65 of Lawrenceville presented Minister Tracie Seward a plaque for her life saving act of CPR. She performed this on Oct. 17, 2020 at the funeral of William “Doc” Washington. One of the members of Post 65 was unable to breathe and had no pulse and she played a role in saving that members life. In appreciation we presented a plaque to Mrs. Tracie Seward,” said Blackwell.
Seward was also recognized by the Brunswick County School Board at their regular meeting on Nov. 9.