Albert James Smith Jr.
August 4, 1925 – May 14, 2020
Albert J. “Al” Smith, Jr. was born on the 4th of August 1925, in Montgomery, Alabama. His mother, Katherine Park Samford Smith, originally from Troy, Alabama, was a school teacher before becoming a full-time mother. His father, Albert Sr., was a bank examiner, originally from Brewton, Alabama.
After graduating from Sidney Lanier High School, Al matriculated to Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now known as Auburn University. He joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and quickly developed a life-long love for all things Auburn. After an 18-month hiatus for service in the U.S. Navy, in which he received a commission in 1945, Al graduated from Auburn in 1947 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Fast forward almost 70 years, when Al attended the graduation of his grandson, Albert IV, from the University of Virginia with a degree in Chemical Engineering. After the awarding of diplomas to graduates in more than a dozen different engineering disciplines, Al was asked if Auburn had offered all of those when he was in school; he replied, “Hell no; we had to learn it all.”
While at Auburn, Al reconnected with Jule Collins, whose family had briefly lived close to his during his childhood. His wit and generous nature may have been part of what enabled him to court her successfully, and they began their lifelong marriage in September of 1948.
Upon graduation, Al accepted an offer from Westinghouse Electric Corporation. He and his bride, spent their honeymoon on the road to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – the first of many, many trips they would take together. After a short tour of duty there, Al was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri, and then, in 1951, to Houston, which would be their home for the rest of their lives.
Al thrived as a young sales engineer selling large industrial motors and other equipment to the growing industries on the Texas Gulf Coast. He and Jule made many lifelong friends at Chapelwood United Methodist Church and in the Memorial neighborhoods where they lived and raised their three children, J’Anne, Bert and Bill.
In 1969, when his oldest child was just starting college and he and Jule were only eight years into a 30-year mortgage, Al resigned from his management position at Westinghouse to undertake the audacious challenge of starting a new business in what was an entirely new industry, the independent power industry. Al’s courage and optimism were magnetic, and enabled him to attract some excellent co-venturers. The very first project designed, constructed and operated by the new Power Systems Engineering became the largest and most energy-efficient of its kind in the world at that time, providing 300 megawatts of electrical output to The Dow Chemical Company.
That success attracted the attention of many other companies. While the energy shocks of the ‘70s increased the importance of energy efficient power production, they also produced an economic malaise that slowed the long-term corporate commitments required for major capital projects. In the late ‘70s, however, new federal legislation added incentives and restrictions that significantly reshaped the electric power industry and cleared a path along which Power Systems could run.
Al was ready, and he led a capable and growing team to storm ahead. The mantra of this young firm became three-fold: have fun, make a fair profit through innovation, and contribute to the greater good! By 1989, when Al was named the Executive of the Year by Independent Power magazine and elected Chairman of the National Independent Energy Producers, PSE Inc. (as the company was then known), was one of the largest and best-regarded in the industry. Coincidentally, that was the year in which Al, Jule and the other shareholders agreed to sell PSE to The Dow Chemical Company – one month after his 64th birthday.
Al and Jule shared a love for travel. Even while building PSE, they took many trips with friends and family and left their family with a legacy of great adventures and precious memories.
They also shared a love for art. To honor his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary, Al surprised Jule by announcing that he had committed a substantial gift to Auburn to enable it to build the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. Not only would this become the only accredited university art museum in Alabama and attract more than 500,000 visitors since opening, through its outreach and educational programs, it became a transformational enrichment opportunity for thousands of public school children as well as university students and area residents.
Al and Jule gave generously to expand educational opportunities at Auburn in other ways as well. Through the private foundation they established, they funded scholarships, fellowships and professorships for scores of worthy recipients in the schools of engineering and education.
Al loved people and likely never met a stranger. He thoroughly enjoyed being a member of The Houston Country Club and the Executives Association of Houston, both of which enabled him and Jule to establish many warm, long-lasting friendships. He was also an active member and always a faithful supporter of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.
After struggling for several years with congestive heart failure, Al joined Jule in heaven on Thursday, the 14th of May 2020.
He is survived by his daughter J’Anne Rawson and her husband Jeff; his son Bert and his wife Gwen; his son Bill and his wife Monica; his grandson Whitten Stuckey and his wife Brooke; his granddaughter Katie Rushing and her husband Davis; his granddaughter Abigail Zamorano and her husband Oscar; his granddaughter Eleanor Chaney and her husband Tyler; his grandson Albert IV and his wife Kathryn; his granddaughter Michelle Austin and her husband Will; his granddaughter Katherine Smith, who is also an Auburn graduate; and by his five adoring and adorable great-grandchildren, Whitten and Mossie Stuckey, and Radley, Willie and Abel Rushing.
The family wishes to thank Al’s amazing caregivers, Chantal Murebwayire, Shronda Williams, and Bunmi Dasaolu; his longtime and tireless personal assistant, Linda Ghignone; the caretakers of his ranch, Virginia and Florencio Vega; and the family “kitchen psychiatrist” for more than 60 years, Johnnie Mae Simpson.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in memory of Al be directed to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, 901 S College St, Auburn, AL, 36849.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Albert James Smith Jr.
have a memory or condolence to add?ADD A MEMORY
Dr. Richard Penaskovic
May 27, 2020
I met Albert Smith a few years ago when he visited Auburn at a reception connected with the Julie Collin Smith Museum.
I have fond memories of Mr. Smith.
I have met many distinguished individuals in my lifetime such as Anthony Hopkins and Pope Paul VI in 1967 and Albert was up there with the best of them!
He was indeed an unforgettable person. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and when I saw his picture in the obituary column I immediately recognized him.
May he Rest In Peace. I look forward to our conversation in heaven. My condolences to the family of this fantastic person!