Vernon Leroy Smith was born at the King's Daughters Hospital in Temple, Texas, US to William Thurman Smith and Lillie Earl Davis Smith on the date of June 3, 1946. His family had a military background from which his father, William Thurman Smith, had come from. He was the baby of his family with 5 older brothers and 1 sister into a family of 8 people.
When Vernon was a year old, his parents discovered something was psychologically wrong with him. He wasn’t acting the ways as most children did. His behavior started becoming strangely erratic to unusual. They took Vernon to a neurologist. The neurologist told his parents that Vernon had down syndrome often referred to back then as mental retardation. He was later diagnosed with mental retardation at 2 years old.
Vernon Leroy Smith was known a special needs child with mental retardation whom had requiring special schooling and care to those in the community who knew him very well. Of course as Vernon grew older and larger, his family became unable to care for him and had no choice but to put him into a state-run mental health institution. The best place they could find for him was Travis State School located east of Austin, Texas. Vernon resided there at Travis State School for 4 short years from 1960 to 1964 until his time of death.
Vernon was always wanting to come home to his family as he felt his family abandoned him when they enrolled him at Travis State School. He felt unloved, unwanted, and out of place when he lived at Travis State School. Despite Travis State School having the best trained staff who were well caring, he had still felt out of place. His family made many trips visiting him at Travis State School when he was a resident there. His first attempt to run away from Travis State School was in 1961. He was later recaptured and lived out the remainder of his life at the Austin State School - Farm Colony then later known as Travis State School. This however, would not be the only attempt that Vernon would try to escape from the institution. He attempted to escape the institution over 4 times.
In October 1964, Vernon ran away for good. Vernon had gotten himself into a meltdown about wanting to go home and be with his family. So he ran away from the school in an effort to go home Several days later, His body was found in the Colorado River from accidental drowning. He had water in lungs which he could not breathe from the asphyxiation from that. Vernon Leroy Smith had died in October 9, 1964.
This biography is a sad case about how those with mental retardation were kept hidden away by society and how families disregarded their feelings about their self-esteem. This is another case of how society has placed a stigma on mental retardation. Vernon Leroy Smith is no exception however.