MADISON — High school junior Bailey Morgan Smith, who died Wednesday at age 17 after a four-year struggle with a rare liver cancer, inspired her town with courage.
Parents and friends were impressed with her optimism and tenacity as she endured years of grueling chemotherapy and countless weekly trips to Chapel Hill for surgeries and treatments.
"She was such a very sweet and kind young girl who brought inspiration to many with her faith," said Rockingham County Schools spokeswoman Karen Hyler in an email announcing Smith’s death. “ … she fought an amazing fight.’’
Bailey’s aggressive cancer stemmed from an original diagnosis of an 8-inch tumor in her kidney in 2015, known as a Wilm’s tumor. The rare form of childhood cancer typically affects children between ages 3 and 4, but struck Bailey as a young teen.
Generosity was another of the young woman’s hallmark traits. Last year, she used her own Christmas money to buy gifts for needy children.
NASCAR drivers and documentaries fascinated Bailey, the daughter of Jason Smith of Stokesdale and Linda Carter Martin of Madison.
Earlier this year, she was able to meet racing great Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bailey, a hardcore Tar Heels fan, had spent the winter of 2018 studying the drivers, distracting herself from discomfort, Martin said.
“Right now, she’s stuck on Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty documentaries,” her mom said in December.
More good cheer came through motorsports when Mayodan barbecue sauce king Bennie Sims partnered last fall with Premium Motorsports and NASCAR driver Ross Chastain to help raise money for Bailey and her family as he promoted his condiment, Bubba Bear’s “Ain’t Giving It Up’’ sauce.
Through Sims, Bailey and her family were able to spend time with Chastain’s racing team at Martinsville Speedway from the comfort of a private viewing suite.
Bailey’s elementary school honored her by creating “Bailey Day” a couple of years ago, said Western Rockingham Middle School Principal Stephanie Wray. Students dressed in Bailey’s favorite Carolina blue for such occasions.
The stoic teen was further honored by the school with a half-time tribute during which UNC cheerleaders surprised her in a gymnasium adorned with Carolina blue and white banners and balloons.
Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Sunday at Ray Funeral Home in Madison and guests are invited to the homes of Martin and Smith at any time. A member of Old Country Church, Bailey had attended Mt. Zion United Methodist for many years.
A celebration of Bailey’s life will be scheduled for later in the spring, her parents said.