Dr. Al Smith: One Day at a Time

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

"From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come" -Bruce Springsteen "It's the little things that mean a lot." -Sonny and Cher As noted in the song lyrics, plenty of lip service has been paid to the idea that small acts can have a big impact.

"From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come"

 -Bruce Springsteen 


 "It's the little things that mean a lot."

-Sonny and Cher


As noted in the song lyrics, plenty of lip service has been paid to the idea that small acts can have a big impact.


The key is picking a day to start making the small steps.


My mentor, Dr. Al Smith, decided one day in 1963 not to have a drink.  It's 48 years later as I write this and Al has not had one drink since.


A small act for one individual with an incredible outcome for Kentucky and the nation. 


Once Al quit drinking, he devoted his life to making a difference.


I dedicated my latest book, Wealth Without Wall Street, A Main Street Guide to Making Money, to Al, my granddaughter, Adelaide, and my fiancée, Karen Thomas.


I noted said in the book dedication that "I want to Al Smith when I grow up."   He is the role model for how I would like to live the rest of my life.


Later this fall you can read about Al in his autobiography, Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism.  It is published by Pied Type Press, with Clark Legacies, Louisville.


Al, a retired newspaper publisher and journalist, is best known as the 33-year host and producer of Comment on Kentucky, a popular and influential program on Kentucky Educational Television.  When Al retired as host in 2007, KET Executive Director, Malcolm Wall, said "Al and Comment on Kentucky represent the essence of what public television was created to deliver to the American public."


From 1979 to 1982, Smith served as head of the Appalachian Regional Commission for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  But his greatest skill is making things happen, one person at a time.


Countless people have told me their personal stories about something Al did to make a difference in their lives or careers. Al doesn't discriminate in whom he touches. I've had multi-millionaires, manual laborers and many, many journalists all tell me their stories about how Dr. Smith touched their lives.


 The overall theme of Wealth Without Wall Street is that small acts by individual people can have a huge impact.  It's easy to get caught up in the stresses of daily life or become cynical and thinks that small moves or individual acts don't matter.


Al Smith is proof that they do. 


The irony of Al becoming "Dr. Smith" is that Al never made it to his undergraduate college graduation ceremony.  His doctorate is an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky.


 The first time I saw Al in person was 1983.  He was speaking candidly to a group of Kentucky's brightest high school students.  He told them how his alcohol addiction caused him to drop out of Vanderbilt University and forfeit his scholarship.  His talent as a writer allowed him to have a number of prestigious journalism positions at major New Orleans publications, but he would eventually lose them each of them because of his drinking.   


He wound up broke.  Then he borrowed money for a bus ticket to Russellville, a small city in Western Kentucky.  While in Russellville, he stumbled into an AA meeting, stopped drinking and turned his life around.


He eventually bought the newspaper he worked at and, later, several others.  He recognized that he could have a larger impact in Russellville, which is far from any major media center.


He credits his wife, Martha Helen, for telling him, "Living in a small town is fine, as long as your vision didn't stop at the city limits sign."


Al developed the ultimate "Think globally, act locally" view of the world.


He said, "When I figured out that Russellville was a miniature of the world, I got my head on straight and realized that everything that went on in the bigger world was there in the little world. I doubt that Al realized that his decision to stop drinking would impact so many people.  That act, and the setting of Russellville, remind me of George Bailey, the character Jimmy Stewart played in the movie, It's A Wonderful Life.  Bailey was given the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. 


I don't want to know what my life would have been like if Al Smith had never been born.   Hundreds of others can make that same statement.

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