Humanitarian. Philanthropist. Patron of the arts. Journalist. Businesswoman. Trailblazer. Tennis enthusiast. Storyteller. Environmentalist. Writer. Community pillar. Humorist. Mother. Wife. Centenarian.
These words, and so many more, can readily be applied to Lessie Smithgall, the “First Lady” of The Times who today celebrates her 103rd birthday.
It is impossible in the limited space available on this page to capture the essence and dramatic impact of Mrs. Smithgall’s incredible life, a fact we’re sure she understands, having been deeply involved in the newspaper business herself once upon a time.
Suffice it to say that Hall County and North Georgia would not be what they are today were it not for the role played in their growth and development by Mrs. Smithgall and her late husband Charles.
In the modern vernacular, one need only to “Google” the Smithgall name to get a sense of the couple’s generosity and commitment to the region. From preserving nature to protecting animals and promoting the arts, that name is affiliated with dozens of worthy causes.
But the lengthy list of causes helped, projects started, needs addressed and lives changed by initiatives quietly done without fanfare or credit, is even more impressive.
As she celebrates her birthday today, Mrs. Smithgall does so looking forward to the opening of the Smithgall Woodland Garden this fall, yet another incredible contribution to the area.
But then she has spent a lifetime being involved in projects of similar scope, from her personal involvement with the Peabody Awards to recognize excellence in journalism, to her unwavering support for and involvement in the arts community.
Not every element of the Smithgall legacy is written in the type of big headlines. Often her involvement has been on a smaller, more personal scale — as a volunteer, a board member, an organizer, a worker. She has been a Cub Scout leader and a den mother, the director of plays for the Girls Clubs.
Like her generosity, her energy, enthusiasm and ongoing commitment to “doing good” seem as inexhaustible as the reservoir of stories she loves to tell, many of which are guaranteed to generate a laugh or smile.
We make no apologies for the fact that this newspaper holds Mrs. Smithgall in special regard. From the time she and her husband started The Times until today, she has been an ardent supporter not only of this newspaper, but of the world of journalism in general. Her efforts to better the profession she chose decades ago have made us all better at what we do.
Because of her unwavering support of journalism in general and of The Times in particular, we are establishing an annual internship in her name to help train young journalists.
As you might expect for someone of her stature, Mrs. Smithgall has been honored with accolades and recognition throughout the years, and there is little more we can add to the praise already offered by many others. We can, however, take advantage of today’s opportunity to wish her a most happy birthday.