Published October 27, 2008
Alexander Wyly Smith III, a well-known attorney, Atlanta civic leader and philanthropist, died Nov. 19 after a long illness. He was 85. Smith was deeply beloved by his many friends and large family.
He was born June 9, 1923, the only son of Laura Payne Smith and Alex W. Smith Jr., also a prominent Atlanta attorney. Later, father and son worked together as partners in the law firm now known as Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
Smith was a devoted patron of the Catholic Church. In 2003, Pope John Paul II named him a Knight of St. Gregory, the highest papal honor given to a layperson, recognizing him for his personal character, reputation and noteworthy accomplishments.
In a 2003 interview with The Georgia Bulletin, Archbishop John F. Donoghue said of Smith, “He comes from an old-time Catholic family. His family was a prestigious Catholic family during a time when there were very few Catholics here. Alex has worked on every major campaign in the archdiocese and has been very generous not only with donations but also with using his time to raise money for building new buildings and enlarging facilities.”
Legal counsel to the archdiocese for nearly two decades, Smith observed and aided in the growth of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese. While honoring him at the 2003 Mass, Archbishop Donoghue said that Smith “advised us not simply as a lawyer but also as a devout Catholic whose love for the law was combined with a love for his church.”
His parents and grandparents were instrumental in the formation of the Cathedral parish, and Smith himself served as chairman of the educational committee for Christ the King School, helping the school become accredited.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, Smith also served as attorney to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home and as chairman of the finance council of the archdiocese.
Smith graduated from Marist School in 1941. His five sons also graduated from Marist, and in 2006 the school honored Smith and his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Haverty Smith, with the St. Peter Chanel Award for lifetime commitment. He served on the board of directors for Marist School in the 1960s.
During his career, Smith was active in civic affairs. He was the first president of Central Atlanta Progress, a charter member of the Commerce Club, and served on the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation. A lifelong Republican, he helped plan and gain funding for MARTA, Interstate 75-85, Interstate 285 and Georgia 400.
Also he served as president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and received the 1976 Brotherhood Award. He served on the boards of directors of the Metropolitan Atlanta Foundation, Southwest Community Hospital and the John and Mary Franklin Foundation. He was also a longstanding and enthusiastic member of the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta.
In 2003, he received the first lifetime achievement award from the Georgia Chapter of the St. Thomas More Society, to recognize his distinguished service as a lawyer for more than 50 years, as well as his commitment to the Atlanta community
As business leader, Smith served on the boards of the National Bank of Georgia, Horizon Industries, Havertys Furniture Co., Audichron Co. and other businesses.
After high school, Smith attended Holy Cross College before volunteering for the U.S. Army Air Force, where he served from 1943-1946. He served during World War II in England and France with the 708th Air Material Squadron. After V-E Day, he studied at Oxford University in England.
In 1946, he married Betty and finished his undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia where he also earned his law degree. Smith remained a devoted Bulldog fan. From 1985-1989, he served as chairman of the UGA Foundation.
In addition, Smith was an avid sportsman. A low-handicap golfer, Smith was a member of Peachtree Golf Club and president in 1989 when the club hosted the Walker Cup. He was a founder and president of the Atlanta Classic golf tournament (later the AT&T Classic). He also was a member of the Piedmont Driving Club.
From beginning to end, Smith was a “people person,” surrounded constantly by friends and family who enjoyed his good humor and love of life. From the head of the dinner table at his red brick home in Buckhead, he presided over boisterous conversations and good-natured arguments about the issues of the day.
Throughout his life, Smith and his wife were stewards of numerous charitable campaigns, which they supported through the Alex and Betty Smith Foundation.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Betty; his daughters, Elizabeth (James) Crew of Atlanta, and Laura (Richard) Brown of Norwell, Mass.; and his sons, Clarence (Lamar), James, Kendrick (Caryl), and William (Amy) all of Atlanta, and Anthony (Andrea) of Marlborough, Mass.; and by 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son Alex IV, who died in 1955. He is also survived by two sisters, Carroll Offen and Joan Zillessen, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sisters, Helen Ayers, Laura Clarke and Emily Hill. A funeral Mass was celebrated Friday, Nov. 21, at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Donations in his memory can be made to the Cathedral of Christ the King, Marist School or UGA Law School.