It will take an impressive birthday cake to hold the candles and encompass the incredible life of Lessie Smithgall.
Born this date in 1911, The Times’ co-founder and community philanthropist turns 106 today.
As Gainesville wishes her a happy birthday, the impact of her century-plus of service and pursuit of truth continues to be felt. Through it all, her spirit, sass and sense of humor have defined and endeared her to multiple generations.
In addition to launching The Times with her late husband Charles Smithgall in 1947, her involvement from media to the arts still resonates. Among her signature accomplishments: She founded The Arts Council in 1970 and served as its first president; the Smithgalls’ donations allowed the organization to buy and renovate the railroad depot in Gainesville that now bears their name as the Smithgall Arts Center; and she helped found the world-renowned Peabody Awards in Athens, awarded annually for top endeavors in broadcast media.
The Smithgalls donated land that became Smithgall Woods State Park in White County and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, A Smithgall Woodland Legacy, in Gainesville which opened two years ago this spring.
She recently was awarded the 2017 Presidential Leadership Award at the annual University of North Georgia Foundation Scholarship Gala in Gainesville.
Through it all, one of her proudest achievements is summed up by the inscription on a plaque by The Times’ front door she often cites with pride: “Guided by the constitutional principle of the public’s right to know, we dedicate this building to the continued enlightenment and freedom of the people of North Georgia.”