Smith operated quietly, tirelessly, expertly

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sometimes in this great world of perspiring arts there are days to celebrate someone not directly related to the outcome of a game.

As the NCAA Tournament resumes tonight, this morning’s column is personal. It is about someone who has been my head coach since 1979.

That was the year I became the sports columnist for this newspaper, a newspaper that in those 35 years has become one of the most respected in the country, first for winning a newspaper war that almost no one thought could be won by anyone other than the old Arkansas Gazette, and second, for surviving and advancing in an age when technology seems to change by the minute.

Yours truly has been a foot soldier with the privilege of serving some great leaders who never wanted their pictures in the paper. Who lead by example, virtue and with great character.

It has truly been a great leadership team to work for, but this Monday the person who is probably second-most responsible for the success of your newspaper, behind Publisher Walter Hussman, is going to retire.

After 45 years of getting up almost every day and coming to the Arkansas Democrat, later the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Paul Smith, formerly the newspaper company’s president and general manager, has decided to stay home and take care of his horses and spend more time with his beautiful wife, Liz.

Liz, a dynamo, is almost speechless over her excitement about having Paul at home full time, although she joked recently at a birthday party that “I’m going to say he died of natural causes.”

They are a great couple, and they openly share that they owe it all to God.

Paul and I started having informal meetings late in 1979, and within a year we had more than a working relationship. We were friends,and he became a role model and mentor to me, never failing to be honest. A few times he might have been abrupt, but he was always fair.

It was his and Ken Hatfield’s spiritual walk that helped lead to my own conversion. Paul and Ken never wavered in their daily beliefs.

Over the years Paul and I have had numerous lunches, many after a friendly wager.

One of my favorite wagers - and Paul’s too, because he still kids about it - was the day we bet lunch on who would be the better NBA player, Joe Kleine or Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul could be a little blinded by his passion for the Razorbacks. It was a glorious lunch, and when I told Kleine about it he asked if he could get in on the bet.

For several years I was able to obtain pretty good tickets to the SEC basketball tournament, and Paul and Liz would take Ken and Linda Eaton, and they would sit through every single game from start to finish.

Paul was in on every meeting during the newspaper war, but he was also the man who would deliver newspapers in an ice storm, sell advertising, sit in on focus groups or study pages upon pages to see what the readers wanted.

Yet, he always had an open-door policy. He always had time for people. He always listened. He was a GI general. Paul is self-educated, and his intelligence and wisdom have helped lives from every area of the newspaper.

Paul has never put himself first. God, family and job were his top priorities, but being there for others was always in play too.

Now, Paul Smith wants to ride quietly off into the sunset. No fanfare. No publicity. No talk of being a smart businessman, a role model, a mentor or a friend.

He doesn’t want to hear how he’s touched lives and is going to be missed by legions of admirers.

So, without ado, let me close by saying: Thanks Paul, from the bottom of my heart.

Sports, Pages 17 on 03/27/2014