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Working in some of the world’s most troubled places and protecting officials with the United States State Department domestically, Gentry O. Smith never fails to mention where it all began — his hometown of Weldon.

Smith, the United States assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, spoke about growing up and being educated in the town while giving his talk at Weldon High School this afternoon — a day which the Weldon Town Board proclaimed to be Gentry O. Smith Day.

“I very much appreciate the fact that this is where I got my grooming,” he said at the event sponsored by Weldon In Action. “A lot of my classmates that came out during the time that we came through have gone on to do phenomenal things. We all have a strong pride in mentorship, family, leadership, and encouragement that came from this small area that led many of us to go on and do marvelous things.”

He said the appreciation he feels for his hometown is tenfold — actually hundreds-fold more than he could express in words. “I have people that I know that are not ashamed to say this is where I got educated. We often talk about it. There’s a lot of Weldon pride and a lot of respect and appreciation for what you all afforded us. I appreciate you letting me come back today and just saying thank you and I hope I’ve represented you well.”

A 1977 graduate of Weldon High School, Smith’s local educational journey began at the former Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School before moving onto Andrew Jackson school and finishing at WHS. “It’s always been my goal to have that piece associated with what I do now.”

In his acceptance speech when appointed director of foreign missions with the rank of ambassador he recalled, “How unique it is that a graduate of Ralph J. Bunche is assisting with U.S. diplomatic efforts.”

A graduate of North Carolina State University with a degree in political science, he began his career with the Raleigh Police Department and said he still respects the profession. “I can state that I still love it today as much as the first day it was introduced. I still have a pride in everyone who has answered the call to protect and serve — to serve the American public in a responsible manner that shows you have respect for the people that you serve, that you honor the tradition that you were sworn to do and that you take the time to learn the people who you are going to serve.”

Said Smith: “I have a lot of brothers and sisters who wear the uniform — who wear the suits — who go into very dangerous situations every day and who appropriately and correctly serve the public.”

Smith has always had an interest in national and international security affairs. 

Then, through a friend, he heard about the diplomatic security service, a job which married his interest in law enforcement and issues both domestic and abroad. “That was the beginning of the road which brought me here today.”

It has been a 30-plus-year career in which he has served as a regional security officer at United States embassies in Tokyo, Rangoon and two tours of duty in Cairo.

He has seen political unrest such as in Burma and served during both Gulf wars as well as Benghazi. There has been the USS Cole bombing, disorder in Yemen and 9-11.

For four years he became a security consultant until Joe Biden’s victory in the last presidential election when he was called back into government service, working on the transition team and then being called back into diplomatic service.

In addressing students in the WHS gym, he said, “Where you’re sitting right now, I sat in a similar location over in the other building. I listened to the people who committed themselves to pouring stuff in my head that was going to make me more effective throughout life. Listening and learning I put at the top of the list for being successful.”

He told them, “Don’t be afraid to demonstrate that you have learned those things. I don’t think there’s any greater pride for the people who were influential to me than to come back and show them that their time was time well spent and that you were actually paying attention to them.”