At Cargill Crop Nutrition, Chris Smith is known as the public relations manager.
At the Riverview Chamber of Commerce, she's known as a board member and one of the group's most active members. At the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, she's known as the co-chair of the Leadership Tampa Class of 2004. At the Hillsborough County League of Women Voters, she's known as the past president.
And in her Riverview neighborhood, she's known as the owner of Conner, a friendly, popcorn-eating, television-watching yellow Labrador retriever.
At The Reef, a restaurant run by culinary students on the campus of Riverview High School, we talked about Smith's busy life, her Harley and her new husband over ham and cheese sandwiches.
Pull up a chair and join us.
ERNEST: Every time I hear the term crop nutrition, I see little Flintstone vitamins dancing in the soil. Who came up with that?
CHRIS: The truth of that matter is that it came from corporate.
I love it.
That's really what it is. When people think of fertilizer, they think of their lawn, but what we make really is crop nutrition. It helps the food grow, it helps the crops grow. It's more than just fertilizer.
Riverview Chamber, Leadership Tampa, League of Women Voters. Have you been taking some crop nutrition to keep going?
It's just my way of life. I am a very active person. I don't like to sit down much. I'm always on the go. It's just fun for me. It's fun meeting different people. I'm very outgoing.
Let's talk about your involvement in these different groups, starting with the League of Women Voters.
I was a member of the league for a few years before I got on the board. I wasn't seeing myself as being president, but after a year or two on the board, they asked (in 2002) me to consider being president. I said, "Sure," not really knowing in an election year how busy it was going to be. It was rocking and rolling from day one. I may have been the president, but the rest of the board and the members, everyone pitched in because it was important to teach people about the candidates, to get the word out.
Give people an idea about Leadership Tampa and your duties as co-chair.
Leadership Tampa is an organization of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce that exposes potential leaders and people that are already leaders to aspects of the community that they may not have ever seen. It prepares people to be leaders because they're learning all about the Tampa area and the Tampa community.
What about your work at the Riverview Chamber?
Well you know the chamber has a new office. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan (John and Kay) donated the space free of charge because it was a quick thing. Hopefully, the chamber will be in the Winthrop area once the offices are built. We had a grand opening (Tuesday) morning and gave people a chance to meet Mr. Sullivan.
I know a lot of people are excited about the Winthrop project.
They are. But, you know, the Riverview Chamber is not the little chamber it used to be because the whole area is growing. We have the Alafia Challenge coming up (Nov. 15) and Trick or Treat Street on Halloween which we have here at Riverview High School.
You like being connected to the Riverview community, don't you?
It's very down to earth. This is the way a community should be. Luckily, I get a chance to be out in the community and I get to meet the people and they're nice people. They're just down-to-earth great people and they care about their community and they're working hard to make it better for their family, their kids and everybody else.
What do you do in your spare time?
It's mostly outdoor things. I like to be outside because I'm inside most of the time during work. I love to kayak. I love to go camping. And I ride a Harley. I like to be outside gardening, working on the pool, it doesn't matter. Just put me outside.
I guess Riverview is a good place since you like the outdoors.
I've been in Tampa since 1980. I lived in different areas, but I really like Riverview. When my kids grew up and left I said I'm going to move out where I worked. Even before then I liked it because it was a growing place. I knew it was growing. Now it's gone wild. This is where all the building and growth is happening.
How old are your kids?
I have a daughter that's 27 and she's a law student at Nova Southeastern near Fort Lauderdale. My son is 23 and he just graduated from USF and got a job at USF.
Do you have any advice about what kind of things I'm going to deal with when my boys hit the teen years?
The car is always a big thing, driving is always a big thing. But everybody is different. Even with my own two kids, you couldn't give them both the same advice. You have to treat them as people and be honest and straightforward with them.
So you're newly married?
Yep, I got married on Valentine's Day.
Tell me about your new husband.
His name is Bill Martinson. He is an agricultural mechanic. He has a degree in agricultural mechanics and he fixes large tractors, the computer side, the mechanical side. It's a very skilled position. Right now, he works at Southern Farm Supply in Plant City. And we met motorcycling.
He drives a Harley also?
He has a Honda.
And you married him anyway?
I married him anyway (laughs).
How did you end up driving a Harley?
After work, I can put my jeans and my headband on, ride into the sunset and become an entirely different person. I always liked motorcycles.
You never thought of yourself as a biker chick?
No, even though I grew up in the '60s. I said, "I'm just going to find out about getting a license." After 9/11, I used to see motorcycles and I thought freedom and live for the day.
Do a lot of people know you're driving a Harley?
They know, but they don't believe it.
DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest
Although Smith, 52, is extremely active, she credits her new husband for helping her slow down and enjoy life. Smith said one of the best things about her job is being able to go out and help the community through Cargill. It's why she takes such an interest in places like Riverview High and The Reef.
- Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section of the St. Petersburg Times. Lunch With Ernest is edited for brevity and clarity. To suggest lunch partners, call Ernest at 226-3406 or e-mail email@example.com