An induction into the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors a Georgia newspaper person can obtain. The late Charles A Smithgall Jr., co-founder of The Times, will be inducted June 9 into that hall.
His wife, Lessie Smithgall, co-founder of The Times, said it was his caring for the community and "wanting people to know what was going on" that made him such an influential person in the business.
"I'm very proud of him. I'm proud of the paper," Smithgall said Monday. "I think he deserves it."
Selections represent those who have made an impact on their community and across the state, said Robert M. Williams Jr., who serves as chairman of the Georgia Press Hall of Fame committee.
"The first thing we look at is someone who has made an impact first of all on the community where their newspaper serves ... they've had a newspaper that's served that community well," said Williams, who is chairman and publisher with SouthFire Newspaper Group based in Blackshear. "And then of course ... normally the kind of folks who make that are those whose influence and whose newspaper careers have had an impact even beyond their own individual community but across the state as well."
The Times nominated Smithgall for the honor.
"On behalf of The Times, I was honored to be able to nominate Mr. Smithgall for this long overdue recognition," publisher Dennis Stockton said. "Few individuals in the state's history have had as much impact on its news media, both print and electronic, as Charles Smithgall. ... It has been my great privilege to have the opportunity to personally know Mrs. Smithgall. At The Times, we strive each day to continue the award- winning traditions of excellence which are the legacy of the Smithgalls."
Charles Smithgall graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1933 and after working for the college radio station he moved to WSB, where he was the first to broadcast the news of the April 6, 1936, tornado that hit Gainesville. He founded WGGA, a Gainesville radio station, with a group of friends in 1941.
He moved to Gainesville in 1946 to convert the weekly Eagle into a daily newspaper, and The Times began operation in 1947 as the Gainesville Daily Times.
Lessie Smithgall said her husband founded the paper because of the "constitutional principle of the public's right to know," which is written on a sign by the The Times' front door.
"He was a pioneer in media and a visionary in so many ways," Williams said. "And his impact is certainly still evident today in the Gainesville and Hall County area and many, many other communities and really all across the state."
After founding The Times, Smithgall also started the Poultry Times and Southeastern Poultry Times, which later merged with Poultry & Egg News. Gannett Co. Inc. purchased The Times and poultry publications in 1981. In 2004, The Times was acquired by Georgia-based Morris Multimedia Inc.
Smithgall also acquired radio stations in the region and helped form Georgia Community Papers Inc., which published the Gwinnett Daily News and a number of weeklies. He sold his interest in that to the New York Times in 1987.
Smithgall was a conservationist, securing about 5,000 acres in White County that later became Smithgall Woods and was donated to the state of Georgia. In 2000, the Smithgall family donated 168 acres of its Hall County property to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Plans are now in the works to develop that land into the Smithgall Woodland Gardens.
Smithgall received numerous awards throughout his life for both his work in business and conservation; these included the Di Gamma Kappa Pioneer of Georgia Broadcasting Award, the Ed Dodd Conservation award from the Elachee Nature Science Center and being named one of 100 Georgians of the Century by Georgia Trend Magazine in 2000. Smithgall died in 2002.
The hall of fame only inducts people after their death. Others who will be inducted along with Smithgall include Robert D. Fowler, publisher of the Gwinnett Daily News; David Stanley Parkman, publisher of The Times-Georgian, Carrollton; William Curran Rogers Sr., editor and publisher of The Forest-Blade, Swainsboro; James Jefferson Thomasson, founder and manager of The Newnan Times-Herald; James W. "Billy" Watson, general manager of the Macon Telegraph & News and president and publisher of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer; and Charles Memory Williamson Jr., editor and publisher of The Darien News.
The induction will be held during the Georgia Press Association's annual convention at Jekyll Island and inductees will be honored with a permanent display in the Newspaper Hall of Fame at the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia in Athens.