A few words about the passing of a friend, Al Smith
By Nelson Weaver


Posted on March 20, 2021 8:04 PM



 

The old saying goes that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the people who don’t matter.

In remembering my friend Al Smith, yes, he was kind to a fault, but he also carried an inquisitive nature with him everywhere he traveled. He was a journalist to the bone. Al was sincerely interested in people’s lives, ideas, and opinions. People mattered to him.

I join a legion of mourners who grieve the loss of Al Smith. There has already been a flood of eloquent accolades from all manner of national and Kentucky dignitaries. His KET “Comment on Kentucky,” invention was a “must watch” program every week. The seat next to Al was where the powerful wanted to be. He will, therefore, be honored by the well-known names he touched along the way.

My first memory of Al Smith was at the Russellville Rotary Club where, on rare occasions as a child, I might attend with my father. I recall my father telling me that anytime a speaker was unavailable, Al Smith could always step in and speak brilliantly about just about any subject. Since my father was slow to praise, I took exceptional note of the man who gained his respect.

My first encounter with the editor and soon-to-be owner of our two local newspapers was in 1966. It was Al Smith who presented me with my Eagle Scout award. He later asked me to come to the newspaper office and interviewed me for a teen recognition article. That interview was the first conversation in a life-long series of memorable encounters.

Over the years, Al Smith and I would get together from time to time and “catch up.” My final opportunities to visit with Al were in Sarasota, Fla.

Al Smith was a storyteller. We had that in common. He had stories from his early days in Sarasota and then Tennessee. There were fascinating tales about his days “and nights” in New Orleans, not to mention Louisiana politics. I encountered him in Logan County, Kentucky, but there were many more chapters in his life that followed. In many ways, Al’s life had a new beginning in Russellville.

Al never hid the fact that he arrived in Russellville as a drunk who had been fired from every newspaper on his resume. Al credits the AA program and the support of his adopted community for his road to recovery. His personal battle and success remain an inspiring story in itself.

Even alcohol, however, couldn’t suppress Al’s brilliance in journalism. Once sober, he was unstoppable. He would quickly point out when telling his personal story of recovery, that his greatest gift in life was the love and partnership with his wife, Martha Helen.

One of Al’s favorite subjects was Logan County’s “Doc” Beauchamp, but Al was a walking encyclopedia on Kentucky’s political history. He was often requested as a guest speaker on the subject.

Although a solid New Deal Democrat, Al Smith was gracious with those who held opposing views. In personal relationships, he worked to find common ground and then explored the areas surrounding mutual agreement. Even as a journalist, Al inserted very little of himself into his interviews and reports.

In my modest attempt at writing a novel, Al was one of the first sources I contacted. I read his books and then pestered him with phone calls and questions. Important pieces of my character and story development came from the background information I gained from my conversations with Al Smith. The experiences he shared as a journalist in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky, provided a treasure cove of writing material.

His contribution to my novel continued with his reading and editing ideas. Finally, he wrote a very nice note for my book cover. His encouragement gave me the confidence to put my work out for public consumption.

In return, I could offer little to warrant his generosity. He simply had a passion for sharing and, like so many others, I was blessed with the opportunity to draw from his well.

Al Smith will be remembered these next few days for his noteworthy accomplishments on the biggest stages of Kentucky. His legacy expanded far beyond the borders of the Commonwealth. My goodness, he worked in the administration of two Presidents.

But as I sat to write some thoughts about my friend, I thought it important that someone also mention his smaller, yet countless contributions to the world around him. There is certainly a heavenly record of his thoughtful acts, yet most were not newsworthy, never reported, nor were they noticed by the general public. They live on, however, as important experiences to the beneficiaries involved.

From my perspective, the larger story and the true story of Al Smith’s life, is the positive impact his journey had on the people he met along the way. It was his character, not his fame, that made him special to the people who knew him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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