Al Smith’s ongoing legacy

| October 1, 2011
courtesy photo Al Smith, Howard Fineman and Don McNay.

courtesy photo
Al Smith, Howard Fineman and 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 above 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 a drink since.

A small act for one individual had 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 in the book dedication that “I want to be 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 1979-82, Al 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 who he helps. I’ve had multi-millionaires, manual laborers and many journalists all tell me their stories about how Al touched their lives.

The overall theme of “Wealth Without Wall Street” is that small acts by individual people can have a huge impact. The line from the Jaycee creed, “… service to humanity is the best work of life” is true.

It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses of daily life or become cynical and think 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 he 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 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 purchased 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 had never been born. Hundreds of others can make that same statement.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the author of the book “Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money.”

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Category: Don McNay

About the Author (Author Profile)

Don McNay
Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the best sellling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money.

McNay is an award winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor.

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Settlement Group ( which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianship’s. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.

Don has appeared on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and over 100 radio and television programs.

McNay has Master’s Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni. Don is a Quarter Century member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.

Comments (2)

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  1. jim Gray says:

    I’m one of those hundreds of others Don mentions whose life would be different but for Al Smith. Don, great column. Wonderful tribute to a world treasure. As I was reading the column, before I got to your George Bailey story, I confess that’s what I was thinking…that’s where you were headed. If there was ever a George Bailey in real life, it’s Al. What a wonderful life. What a wonderful guy.

    • Don McNay says:

      Thank you Mr. Mayor, I received one of the first review copies of Al’s new book and just read about your family helped Al in the 1970′s. I thought I knew everything about Al’s wonderful life but learning quite a bit. I appreciate the kind words. Don