A Gainesville business owner and philanthropist died Monday night after a nearly 30-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Jim Smithson moved to Gainesville from Atlanta in 1958 and started a mobile home manufacturing and retail business called Vintage Enterprises.
Abit Massey, Smithson’s longtime friend, said he was a pioneer in the mobile home manufacturing business.
Smithson went on to open several other branches of the company in other eastern and midwestern states.
The company employed thousands of workers during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Jim, among other things, was a smart and successful businessman,” Massey said.
Smithson was also a real-estate developer who owned several office warehouse buildings in Hall County and developed the majority of the Oakwood Interstate 985 corridor and Limestone Parkway.
Massey said Smithson was a very personable but quiet man who loved Gainesville, Hall County and Northeast Georgia. That love could easily be seen in his contributions to the local community.
Smithson is credited with providing the funding that made the First Baptist Church’s preschool program possible.
He served on several boards including Gainesville College, Young Harris College, Lakeview Academy, Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville National Bank and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
“He liked to see the right things happen but didn’t want to be in front of the parade. But he would step up when something needed to be done,” Massey said.
Smithson was born in 1933 and grew up in downtown Atlanta. He, his sister and mother, lived in the Techwood Homes federal housing project. At the age of 9, Smithson took his first job as a paper delivery boy.
His son, Joe Smithson, said his father’s disadvantaged youth created a desire to help children overcome obstacles.
“Dad was from the school of hard knocks. He had a great appreciation for the underprivileged. There wasn’t a Boys & Girls Club when he was a kid but he went to the local YMCA and credits that with saving his life,” Joe Smithson said.
Smithson gave the club the land and building for its current location. He also provided the building and land for the Oakwood location as well as lake property, a boat and a dock.
Joe Smithson said his father was a self-made man who never ran out of patience and loved being able to help anyone who needed it.
“Dad was just every man’s man. He was down to earth. He appreciated everyone. He wasn’t a fancy guy. He didn’t put on airs,” Joe Smithson said.
Smithson’s longtime friend and business neighbor, Philip Wilheit, mirrored Joe Smithson’s sentiment.
Wilheit said Smithson’s vision and involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County has made the organization what it is today.
“It’s safe to say that Gainesville and Hall County would not be the place it is without people like Jim Smithson,” Wilheit said. “People who don’t care who gets the credit as long as the job gets done.”