Note: Longtime Gadsden Times Sports Editor Jimmy Smother passed away on Aug. 31 at the age of 82. Messenger Sports Correspondent Stan Veitch worked with Smothers for several years at the Times.
By Stan Veitch/Sports Correspondent
I didn’t move to Etowah County until 1989, so when I met Jimmy Smothers, I wasn’t in awe of him like so many of my co-workers were.
I didn’t know his history.
In those days after I started working at The Gadsden Times, Jimmy didn’t come in the office very often, so it was a while before I met him. His assistant at the time, John Alred, actually hired me.
But the first time Jimmy came in while I was working, he stopped at my work station and took the time to say welcome and hello. Then he went in his office to make a couple of phone calls.
In a bit, he called me in and told me to shut the door.
Instead of a “meeting” to tell me how to do things, Jimmy instead asked me how I liked the job and actually listened to my answer. He asked me if there was anything I would change if I could (of course, being new, I wasn’t aware of anything at the time).
Then we just talked about my background, about his background, about sports, about family, about everything and nothing.
As Jimmy’s favorite thing (college sports) and mine (high school sports) weren’t exactly the same, I didn’t see Jimmy all that often until he slowed down and started coming in the office more often. But I still felt his influence, even when he was in the field and I was in the office.
Jimmy would check in by phone a couple of times a day. Anytime that I was the one to answer, he’d ask how I was. Then he’d orally criticize my work of late. Sometimes he’d tell me things that made me mad, but he was usually spot-on.
Jimmy liked grammar things that were badly outdated, but nonetheless correct. They were just out of vogue, as so many things seem to get.
But the moments I cherish the most were when I “chauffeured” Jimmy to Talladega. When out of the office, his storyteller mode was turned on. He’d tell me stories about Richard Petty, Bear Bryant, Shug Jordan, and so many others.
And he’d give advice, stuff that would help any writer. One of the best tips he gave me, I used a lot. He said to not just talk to the head coach or the lead driver but to talk to the people in the background.
I did this for my entire career, and it certainly helped. I got to know the assistant coaches, a lot of the coaches wives and kids, the people in the NASCAR garage and other “background” people. As Jimmy told me, they were often the ones who would come forward and let you know things before it was official news.
Jimmy also told me that when someone told me something off the record, to keep it off the record. That advice has helped me more than once in my career. When someone finds out that you’re trustworthy, they’re more apt to open up to you.
He gave me other nuggets of wisdom, but those two in particular were the most valuable.
In a lot of regards, Jimmy was more of a friend than he was a boss. He always made it to Jacksonville State’s Football Media Day, so when Jimmy didn’t show up this year, I knew he had to be sick. Jimmy’s friend John Pruett said he was sick, but I was hoping it wasn’t sick enough that I’d be writing this so soon. JSU’s Media Day was in early August, so Jimmy didn’t even last a whole month after it.
Jimmy once told me that his fondest wish was to die in a press box after a game so that the game wouldn’t be disturbed. He didn’t get that wish, but he lived a storied life indeed.
Rest in Peace, my friend.