Smith remembered as natural leader, loyal friend

Published 1:00 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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Jim Smith was remembered this week as an excellent boss, a born leader, and a person who made friends wherever he went.

Smith, who served for 20 years as CEO of Southeast Alabama Gas District (now Southeast Gas), died this week.

A native of Greenwood, S.C., Smith studied electrical engineering technology at Southern Technical Institute in Marietta, Ga., before launching what would be a 42-career in public utilities. He had managed the Fitzgerald, Georgia, municipal utility system for eighteen years when he was named assistant manager of the Southeast Alabama Gas District in Andalusia in 1984. Three years later, he took the helm as CEO.

Mayor Earl Johnson, who eulogized Smith at a celebration of life service on Thursday, said he was serving as general counsel of the gas district when Smith moved to Andalusia and the two became fast friends.

“Jim was a leader,” Johnson said. “No matter where you went, Jim knew people. He rose to the top of every organization he was a part of, including some national organizations.”

Johnson recalled that members of the 60s musical group the Swinging Medallions, whose most famous hit was “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” were from Smith’s hometown.

“He knew those guys and stayed in touch with them,” Johnson said. “One time we were in Atlanta, and he got a phone call from one of the band members. We met up for dinner that night, and I guarantee you, we had a double shot of fun.”

Greg Henderson, who worked with Smith at Southeast Gas for nine years and succeeded him as CEO, said as a boss, Smith delegated authority and let people make mistakes.

“He would you enough rope to pull yourself up or hang yourself,” Henderson said. “He was also very patient. He could sit in a meeting for three hours, listening, and not say a word. That’s probably why he was a great turkey hunter.”

His friends described him as a passionate outdoorsman.

Both Johnson and Henderson recalled that if Gas District business took them to Birmingham, the trip home inevitably required stops to check hunting property somewhere.

“He’d stop and look for turkey tracks when it wasn’t even turkey season,” Johnson said.

Henderson said, “We’d be coming back from a meeting in Birmingham, and he’d want to show me the hunting property. We literally pulled off the Interstate late one Friday in the summer, still in dress shirts and ties, jumped on four wheelers, and rode around to look at a food plot. Then we went back to work.”

Seth Hammett was Smith’s across-the-street neighbor for 38 years.

“He could not have been a better neighbor,” Hammett said.

The two took several outdoors-related trips together, the most memorable of which was an 8-day trip to Alaska when they were joined by their sons. Smith, known for being “frugal with his own money, and everybody else’s, too” planned the excursion, which included traveling the backroads of the state in a rented van, camping, eating food they packed, and taking in incredible sights.

“It was a wonderful trip,” Hammett recalled.

Smith maintained a perfect attendance record in Rotary for 50 years.

“Jim and I went to Rotary clubs all over this country,” Henderson said. “If we went somewhere on business, he’d check to see if there was a Rotary meeting anywhere around, we’d go to it. We met a lot of interesting people that way.”

Local pharmacist David Darby, who got to know Smith as a fellow Rotarian and fellow member of First Presbyterian Church, recalled how loyal and supportive Smith and his wife, Danna, were and are.

“There’s always been a thing at the church that members don’t send each other Christmas cards,” Darby said. “When Harco had sold and Laura and I were first putting this pharmacy together, right after Thanksgiving, we got a card in the mail from the Smiths.

“I thought that was odd because we didn’t do cards,” he said. “But when I opened it up, there was a stack of prescriptions and a note from Danna that said, ‘When you get (the pharmacy) open, fill all of these.’ They had literally had their doctors write new prescriptions so they could be our first customers.”

Johnson said in his eulogy of Smith that he spent many hours traveling with Smith, and most of those were spent telling stories and jokes and laughing.

“After a while, he’d look at me and say, ‘Boy, you ain’t right. I’m going to get you checked out.’

“I had Jim checked out,” he said. “And he was right. He was what we should all strive to be.”

Smith is survived by his wife of 61 years, Danna; his daughter, Amy; son, Cam; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. For complete obituary information, please see Page 5 of the Saturday, May 4, 2024 print edition of the Andalusia Star-News or click here.