Charles Harlin "Rabbit" Smith, 89, of East Palatka, FL, passed away peacefully Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at his home surrounded by his family. A native of Aldrich, Missouri, Rabbit moved to Palatka, FL in 1937 and graduated from Palatka High School in 1943. While in high school, he not only was a two-way back in football, but also was a catcher and middle-infielder on the baseball team (which he also played at Georgia), a forward in basketball and was a jumper, sprinter and relay man in track. Following high school, Rabbit was offered the opportunity to play football at the University of Georgia (Florida did not field a team in 1944 due to the war). Rabbit once again excelled and following the 1947 Sugar Bowl, received a pro offer ($500 signing bonus & $5,000 per year) to play in the NFL for the Chicago Cardinals. Following a year in the NFL, Rabbit, at age 24, took the head football coaching job at Madison County High School in Madison, Georgia where he coached for 2 years before returning to Palatka in 1951 as assistant coach. He served as head coach at Palatka High School from 1952-1963 when he accepted the position of head recruiter and running backs coach at the University of Florida under Coach Ray Graves. He left UF in 1970 and became the head football coach at Eastside High School in Gainesville, FL until his retirement in 1980. During his tenure at Eastside, Rabbit won 3 championships.
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A true leader and mentor, Rabbit was also active in the community through his involvement in the Jr. Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees, Elks, Lions, The Rodeheaver Boys Ranch and as a Mason.
He enjoyed lobstering in the Keys in South Florida, all sports and water events and also had a love for farming. Rabbit's love for his family and the time he spent with his grand and great-grandchildren will forever be remembered and cherished.
He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Ann Smith of East Palatka, FL, 3 sons, Fritchy (Linda) Smith of Ocala, FL, Perschon (Mary) Smith of Archer, FL and Robert (Alisa) Lauramore of Cape Coral, FL, 3 daughters, Rosanne Carter of Gainesville, FL, Vicky (Larry) Corn of San Mateo, FL and Celeste (Greg) Forron of East Palatka, 21 grandchildren, Marnie (Jamie) Gray, Chris Smith, Niki Benson, J.R. Smith, Scott (Rachel) Smith, Steven (Lynn) Smith, Dollie Smith, Dee Smith, Kristin (Thomi) Hall, Brett Corn, Lyndsey (Lee) Wilkinson, Aaron (Jennifer) Forron, Wesley Forron, Heather Arnold, Jesse Lauramore, Beverly DeMatteo, Nino DeMatteo, Laure Bliss, Adam Bliss, Tracie Vickers and Matt Vickers and 16 great-grandchildren.
Services celebrating Rabbit's life will be at 3:00 P.M. Friday, December 13, 2013 at Johnson-Overturf Chapel in Palatka with Pastor Garry Taylor officiating. The family will receive friends Thursday from 5-8 P.M. at Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home in Palatka.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made to Haven Hospice Roberts Care Center, 6400 St. Johns Ave., Palatka, FL 32177.
Memories and condolences may be expressed to the family at www.JohnsonOverturffunerals.com.
Arrangements are under the direction of Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home in Palatka.
Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home
307 South Palm Avenue Palatka, FL 32177
Published in Athens Banner-Herald on Dec. 12, 2013