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Philanthropist, Times founder Lessie Smithgall honored with Quality of Life Award
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Lessie Smithgall is awarded the Annual Quality of Life Award by the Gainesville-Hall County Community Council on Aging at First Baptist Gainesville on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Over the past 107 years, Lessie Smithgall, a Gainesville philanthropist and co-founder of The Times, has made her mark.

On Thursday, the Gainesville-Hall County Community Council on Aging honored her with its Quality of Life Award for her commitment to improving quality of life in Hall.

Smithgall was born in 1911 in East Point, Georgia. She studied journalism at the University of Georgia, then began her career at a radio station in Atlanta. She married the late Charles Smithgall in 1934, and they had four children.

The family moved from Atlanta to Gainesville when a radio station and weekly newspaper went up for sale. The Smithgalls founded WGGA in 1941 and The Times in 1947.

In 2001, the couple donated land for the Smithgall Woodland Legacy, the Gainesville campus of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The nature preserve opened in 2015, and Smithgall said she has enjoyed seeing Gainesville become a tourist destination when people stop by to see the garden.

The Smithgalls founded The Arts Council on the porch of their Gainesville home in 1970. To support the local arts community, they purchased and then donated the former home of The First Methodist Church of Gainesville and Westminster Presbyterian Church that is now known as the Smithgall Arts Center.

Smithgall said she has always enjoyed the arts. Her youngest son, Thurmond, is a musician, and she has fond memories associated with music.

“When I was about 12 years old, my father took me to the Metropolitan Opera in Atlanta. … I’ve loved it ever since,” she said.

On Thursday, Smithgall heard an opera performance from Jan Grissom, an adjunct professor at Brenau University.

Smithgall is a member of Gainesville First Baptist Church, the Northeast Georgia Writer’s Club and the Gainesville-Hall County Junior League. She is also a Brenau University Trustee Emeritus. Tennis was always one of her favorite activities, and she played until she was 89.

Smithgall said she has enjoyed staying involved in the Hall County community.

“We have many assets, good businesses and cultural activities. It’s just a good place to live,” she said. “…I’ve been blessed myself, and I would like to share the many things I enjoy.”

On Thursday, after receiving the award, Smithgall said she was thankful for the community’s support.

“I am deeply and considerably grateful for the honor,” she said.