After working all over the world, Steve Smith retired to Topsail Beach and now, as the town’s mayor, he’s just as busy as ever.
Steve Smith has traveled the world. With a father in the Army, he moved from one town to another as a child, then spent a great deal of time at Ft. Bragg. Smith went to college in Greenville, North Carolina, at East Carolina University, with an eye on being in corporate life and running his own company. “That’s what I got to do,” he says.
Joining the Eveready Battery Company after graduating, Smith worked in several places across the United States, eventually taking on leadership positions with the company in Indonesia and Kenya. He retired as managing director and CEO of Eveready East Africa Limited in 2011.
That retirement lasted about six months.
Smith and his wife, Dr. Edna Cascioli Smith, have owned property on Topsail Island since the late 1960s. They had visited quite often throughout the years, and he says they always knew they would retire here. When the time came to move to Topsail Beach, Smith took about six months off and then started looking for ways he could contribute.
He found many ways to make a difference for his community and for the island as a whole. Smith was elected Mayor of Topsail Beach in 2019. Prior to that, he served on the town’s board of commissioners for four years. He is also currently chairman of the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission, director of the North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association and a trustee for the Historical Society of Topsail Island. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Topsail Island. He was co-chair of the Topsail Beach 50-Year Celebration in 2013 and chair of Topsail Beach’s Beach, Inlet and Sound Committee from 2014 to 2015.
“I enjoy being part of this town,” he says. “It has a certain pull, a draw.”
Looking to the future, he says that he wants the town to stay family oriented. “That is the charm of the community,” he says. This once-small town is growing, just like others in the area, and Smith points to that huge growth as one of its challenges. However, he says, “We have something here that a lot of towns want to hold onto.”
The Smith family’s roots run deep on the south end of the island.
Smith says he and his wife remember when the water system was put in, and Dr. Smith has fond memories of coming across from the mainland on the pontoon bridge, going fishing with her granddad and having picnics on the beach. Even when working in Indonesia or Kenya, the couple would make the trip back to Topsail for extended vacations. It would take them 40 hours to travel from Indonesia and 18 hours from Kenya.
Smith met many interesting individuals during his work for Eveready, including Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat who served as secretary-general of the United Nations, then-Senator Barack Obama, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, several Olympians and notable authors. Back in Topsail Beach, he notes that he now “works with a lot of fine people who are motivated and understand the challenges.”
In his position as mayor, Smith says he is “fully focused on what this town needs and how it will fit the future.” Noting that he listens to the citizens of Topsail Beach, who have made it known that they want to “keep it low-key, relaxed,” he says there are a few businesses and restaurants in town and all are locally owned. He is excited about the re-opening of Godwin’s Market, a local fixture that had been a big part of the community for many years.
In his work on the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission, Smith says he is focused on education. While it is important to manage the beach across the entire island, as the waterways are used more and more, it’s also important to ensure that residents and visitors understand the impact of certain things such as microplastics in the water and invasive vegetation on the dunes. He adds that the commission is “looking at synergies to move forward.”
All three Topsail Island towns — North Topsail Beach, Surf City and Topsail Beach — have adopted a ban on nonencapsulated polystyrene and are working on securing the right to deal with abandoned vessels in the waterways.
These strategies, along with efforts to work with environmental groups on issues such as microplastics, are designed to make a difference in the environmental health of the entire island. Educating everyone, including government representatives, is a critical aspect of moving that work forward.
“Managing the beaches helps the total economy of North Carolina,” Smith says. He emphasizes that on the island, there are “two sets of roads — the asphalt and the water” and that both need to be managed properly for a positive impact.
On the asphalt side, paid parking has become a topic of concern in Topsail Beach in recent years. Smith says the Topsail Beach Board of Commissioners has voted no to paid parking for Topsail Beach except for one lot. “All options were discussed, and keeping our current parking arrangement was deemed to be the best for Topsail Beach at this time,” he says.
For his future, Smith plans to run for another term as mayor and to continue his work listening to the citizens of Topsail Beach and “make sure their voices are heard.”
Another important position for Smith is closer to home — doing a good job as a grandfather. He says he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and taking shorter vacations to other places across the world. One aspiration is to set foot on Antarctica. Other plans for his own future include trips across Canada and Europe and spending some time in northern Italy, the site of his wife’s heritage. Mostly, though, he plans “to live here and enjoy the island.”
Photography by Unique Media & Design