December 20, 2013 – Smith Lanier was a lot of things to a lot of people. Entrepreneur, business leader. Community servant, corporate citizen. Philanthropist, sage counselor. Husband, father, grandfather. Friend.
But to everyone who grasped his outstretched hand, who received his greeting or generosity, who knew him as a brother or a benefactor, one thing was the same: he was an honest man.
Smith Lanier passed into the hands of his Lord on Thursday evening at East Alabama Medical Center. He was 85 years old. He leaves a legacy of integrity, service and commitment to God, family and country.
Born January 15, 1928 in Egan, Georgia, J. Smith Lanier, II graduated from West Point High School in 1945. He attended Auburn University (A.P.I.) in 1945 and 1946 before transferring to the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where he obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a commission in the United States Navy.
In 1950, Mr. Lanier joined his aunt’s insurance agency, Lanier Insurance Agency, based in West Point, Georgia. His business career was interrupted during the Korean War by two years of active duty aboard the USS Ault DD698 where he served as its Engineering Officer.
When he returned from service, he purchased the agency which in the early 80’s was incorporated under the name J. Smith Lanier & Co. In the intervening years, a business that began with a single office and 5 employees grew to national prominence with offices throughout Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky. Today, the company is recognized as one of the oldest and largest insurance brokerage firms in the United States. He served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the agency until 1998 and was Chairman Emeritus until his death. His nephew, D. Gaines Lanier, is now Chairman and CEO.
Throughout his life, Mr. Lanier helped launch many other business ventures. He was a founding director of five publicly traded companies, including Async, Inc.; SouthernNet; Interface, Inc. (NASDAQ); Valley Realty Company, Inc.; ITC Holding Co., Inc.; Avdata, Inc.; National Vision Associates, Inc.; Cookbook Brands, Inc. (now Beverage House); Powertel, Inc. (formerly Intercel, Inc. and now TMobile); ITC DeltaCom (NASDAQ).
A strong advocate for education at all levels, Mr. Lanier supported both public and private education. He helped found Springwood School in Lanett, Alabama. He served on several boards of trustees, including the USMMMA, LaGrange College, Oglethorpe University, and Atlanta Christian College (Point University). He was key in reestablishing Atlanta Christian College under its new charter, Point University, and its relocation from East Point to West Point, Georgia. It was Mr. Lanier’s desire to change the world through Christ. He believed quality education and spiritual training were the means to that end.
Auburn University was very dear to Mr. Lanier. He served on the first Dean’s Advisory Board of the College of Human Sciences. From 1993 to 1995 he served on the Auburn University Foundation Board. He was a member of the 1856 Society and a life member of the Alumni Association. In December 2000, the college honored Mr. Lanier with its International Quality of Life award, presented at the United Nations. In 2010, he was presented with the Auburn University Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Strong values distinguished Smith Lanier in today’s competitive corporate environment, values reflected in his commitment to the community. Mr. Lanier was instrumental in leading a capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art Center for Therapeutic Recreation at Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. He also served on the Board of Visitors of Callaway Gardens Foundation for many years. In 1993, Mr. Lanier, a member of the West Point Rotary Club for 63 years, was presented the Buck Hill Award for service exemplifying the ideals of the Rotary’s Four Way Test. He was named Georgia Small Business Person of the Year in 1997 and National Small Business Person of the Year in 1998. The USMMA selected him as their Alumni of the Year in 1998 and he was inducted as the 28th member of the Distinguished Hall of Graduates in 2009.
Mr. Lanier was active in local, regional and national politics. He served as a county chairman, on the state executive committee of the Alabama Republican party. In 1964, he served as a presidential elector from the state of Alabama. He was a delegate to two Republican National conventions and remained a strong supporter of conservative policies and representatives.
A seventh-generation member of Spring Road Christian Church in Lanett, Alabama, Mr. Lanier served as Chairman of the Board, Elder and Trustee throughout this life.
Smith Lanier was, in the end, what he prepared to become in the beginning. An Eagle Scout, he credited the Boy Scout Oath and the twelve Boy Scout laws as foundations for his personal and business life: On my honor, I will do my best. To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
Mr. Lanier leaves a wake of family, friends, and colleagues who have been charged with carrying on the legacy he leaves behind. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Elizabeth Walker (Betty); daughters Mary Ellen (Mrs. Anthony Lee Collins, Sr.) of Lanett, Alabama; Elizabeth Lanier Lester of West Point, Georgia; and Edith Carroll (Mrs. Joseph Wiley Hodges, Jr.) of McDonough, Georgia; grandchildren Mary Elizabeth Lester (Mary Beth), Anthony Lee Collins, Jr. (Lee), James Russell Lester (Jamey), Carroll Lanier Collins (Lanier), Smith Walker Collins (Smith), Joseph Crockett Hodges (Joseph), William Dow Hodges (William) and David Lanier Hodges (David); sisters Mary (Mrs. John Champion) of Tallahassee, Florida and Sally (Mrs. Malcolm Davenport) of Lanett, Alabama. He also leaves former son-in-law Hazen Russell Lester, III (Russ) of Auburn, AL and sister-in-law Sydney Gaines Lanier; a niece and a number of nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents, Campbell B. and Bertie T. Lanier and his brother, Campbell B. Lanier, Jr.
A service celebrating the life of J. Smith Lanier, II will be held on Monday, December 23 at 11:00 (EST) at Spring Road Christian Church in Lanett, AL.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Spring Road Christian Church, Point University, Springwood School, Boy Scouts of America, or the charity of your choice.