It’s not a defining moment but an important one. Jackie Smith was the 1986 Miss Kentucky USA and contender for Miss USA who carried a couple of secret weapons; a big heart and a beautiful smile. She said, “The Miss USA pageant opened my eyes to the possibilities outside my tiny world of experience.” The tiny world she references is the small town of Metropolis, Illinois population of 6,000.
Jackie said, “Ok, this is funny...I loved baton twirling and competed in the USTA (United States Twirling Association) and NBTA (National Baton Twirling Association) until entering high school. The NBTA USA motto is ‘winning is participating’. Accept new friendships as you extend your friendship to your fellow competitors. Baton twirling of yesteryear fashioned big hair, painted faces, flashy costumes, and willowy young women. It's the lessons learned behind the scenes that prepared potential beauty queens like Jackie for future endeavors.
The first eleven years of education for Jackie happened in Massac County. In addition to academics, she participated in cheerleading and countless piano lessons. As she matured, so did her dreams. The little town of Metropolis didn’t give Jackie all she wanted. It was time to move forward and shake things up. She wanted to work in downtown Paducah and become a member of a teen board at Jeans Department Store. “I couldn’t work afternoons as planned, so I decided to change schools,” she said.
Jackie started at Paducah Tilghman High School the second full week of classes in the fall of 1981. “I loved Tilghman. It was the best move for me. It taught me to become independent, step out of my comfort zone, and make new friends.” After graduating from high school in 1982, Jackie attended college at Murray State University as an accounting major. She became very active in student government, concert committee, sorority, and as a little sister in a fraternity.
During Jackie’s junior year at MSU, she was crowned Miss MSU. The pageant win was a preliminary to Miss Kentucky USA. Though Jackie wasn’t your stereotypical pageant girl (the MSU pageant was only her second), she won and traveled across the state attending festivals, riding in parades, engaging in public speaking, and emceeing pageants.
Miss USA Pageant 1986. Jackie Taylor Smith introduces herself as Miss Kentucky USA
Next stop, the Miss USA pageant in Miami, Florida, known for its sandy, white beaches, Cuban culture, and all-night parties, this little Kentucky girl had eyes wide open for over a month with 50 other beautiful women all vying for the same prize. “It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. One of the greatest experiences of my life,” she said.
Jackie said she made many friends as Miss Kentucky in 1986. One such friend was a celebrity icon, Halle Berry. She was Miss Ohio USA in 1986 and became the first runner-up for Miss USA. “She was as sweet as she was beautiful,” said Jackie. From that experience, Jackie gained more confidence as a public speaker and learned a few tricks of the trade about style, clothing, and beauty.
While in Miami, contestants participated in five weeks' worth of events. The fourth week of preliminaries landed Jackie in the hospital. The day before she was to compete, she was hospitalized due to a lack of rest and proper nutrition. She developed strep throat and couldn’t introduce herself. “I had no voice,” she said. Though the pageant results weren’t in her favor, Jackie said, “I learned that beauty truly comes from the inside.” She went on to say that pageants can amplify insecurities about body image. “It’s wonderful for people who don’t look for self-worth in the opinions of others.”
Jackie’s first job was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and realized quickly that she was homesick. An accounting position opened up at the P & L Railroad in Paducah so Jackie dusted the dirt off her shoes and headed home.
It was after the move that Jackie took notice of one particular person; the person that eventually became her husband. “I met Rex while I was Miss Kentucky at a fashion show fundraiser at the Irvin Cobb Hotel in Paducah. We were friends and even double-dated with other people. We realized quickly that we had a lot in common and wanted the same things out of life,” said Jackie.
Rex was seven years older than Jackie but it didn't hamper how they felt about many of the same issues; one of those issues was politics. In college, Jackie was very active in student government. “My father-in-law and my husband were always involved in the political process,” she said. Rex started in the Democratic Party and later changed affiliations. The interesting thing about the couple is they have their belief system and values but don't begrudge others for having an opposing opinion. Jackie said she prays for the nation no matter who's in charge.
Jim Smith, Jackie's father-in-law was a well-known businessman in western Kentucky. His company, Jim Smith Contracting, was founded in 1969 in Smithland. The family-owned businesses included coal mining, fuel distribution, hotels (notably the ‘Big E’ in Paducah), rock quarry, and highway, bridge, and road construction. Today, Rex is the sole owner of the business.
Both Jackie and Rex share a passion for fitness. “Our first date was running a 10K, and I beat him’” said Jackie. After three months of dating and many long nights of deep conversations, Rex asked Jackie to marry him. “There was never any doubt that he was and is the only one for me,” she said.
The family that raised Jackie, her adoptive parents, were able to share in the couples’ nuptials. After the death of her parents, Jackie was ready to find her biological family. In 2017, she met her mother, father, and two sisters. “My mother is only 73 and is beautiful and very young at heart. My father was a career military man playing football for the marine corps,” said Jackie. “My parents met again after they discovered me and had lunch at the diner where they dated as high school sweethearts. They’ve become very good friends.”
Jackie and Rex have four children and two grandchildren. The children are Jay (33), Sam (31), Callie (28), and Gabbie (19). “My greatest talent and passion so far is being a grandmother,” said Jackie. “I was born for this job. I’m a hands-on teacher, cuddler, reader, cheerleader, rocker, and lover of the two most precious beautiful children on planet earth. Charlie is a three-year-old fair-haired blond girl who looks much like my family and Ford is a nine-month-old boy with big brown, dreamy eyes and a mischievous smile like his mother.”
As part of giving back to the community, Jackie is the incoming chair of the Paducah Beautification Board, co-chair of the Dogwood Trail, a board member on the MSU Foundation, and an active member of First Baptist Church of Paducah. She’s worked with the American Cancer Society, The National Bone Marrow Society, Community Kitchen, and Starfish Orphan Ministry.
The Smiths love to travel. “My favorite city to visit is New York. My favorite beach is Seaside and my favorite vacation includes England and Greece,” said Jackie. The family has a farm in Livingston County that’s the perfect place to get away from it all. “The kids like to spend time there,” she said. They also enjoy ‘making a fuss’ over holidays, baby showers, weddings, and anything worth celebrating.
From a personal perspective, Jackie said she always needs a purpose. “I get up every morning optimistic. I bounce back quickly. I’m a fixer-upper. I don’t throw out anything or anybody. I try to help people get back on their feet.”
When asked about Jackie’s perfect day, she said, “I’d have three cups of black coffee with thirty minutes of quiet time. I’d work for an hour or so. Walk on the beach at Marco Island with my best friend engaged in a long talk; maybe a couple of hours in New York with my girls shopping. The afternoon would be spent with my grandchildren in the park. I’d cook a fabulous supper for my husband and boys while listening to stories about their day. Then, sit on the back porch by the fireplace with Rex, a great bottle of cabernet, listening to 70’s music.”