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Ex-Gov. Smith dies at 91

2003 Preston Smith, Texas' 40th governor, who graduated from Lamesa High School and owned movie theaters in Lubbock, died Saturday in University Medical Center three days after being admitted with pneumonia.

Longtime friend Otice Green said Smith's family was with him when he died at 4:45 p.m. He was 91.

During his tenure as governor of Texas, Preston Smith was the driving force behind establishment of a medical school at Texas Tech, and he signed the bill that authorized the Texas Tech School of Law, further stretching the university's mission. Smith died in 2003.

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. John's United Methodist Church in Lubbock.

In Austin, viewing will be from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday in the Senate chambers in the Capitol. Burial with state honors will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Texas State Cemetery.

Smith, born March 8, 1912, in Williamson County near Austin, is remembered for overcoming Depression-era poverty to become a successful businessman and popular politician.

One of 13 children of a tenant farmer, Smith worked his way through Texas Tech with a job at a service station while earning a business administration degree.

He graduated in 1934 and married Ima Smith, who passed away in 1998. They had a son, Preston Michael, and a daughter, Jan Lauren.

Smith entered the Lubbock business community in 1936 by opening Tech Theater in a partnership with W.O. Bearden. Smith later opened more theaters in Lubbock. In 1957, he merged interests with Video Theaters, operating theaters and drive-ins in Lubbock and Oklahoma City.

He also branched into other businesses, including real estate.

But Smith also is known for a political career matched by few others.

It began in 1944 when the Democrat was elected to his first of three straight terms as state representative from the nine-county 119th District.

He lost his first try for the state Senate in 1952 but won in 1956 and was re-elected in 1960.

In 1962, Smith was elected lieutenant governor. He was re-elected in 1964 and 1966. Smith was elected governor in 1968 and re-elected in 1970.

"Politically, you don't find many people with the kind of experience he had," Green said. "He was probably the most experienced governor we've had."

As governor, Smith was the diving force behind establishment of a medical school at Tech, which altered the university's landscape and put Lubbock on the map as a major player in Texas health care.

"I knew that we needed a medical school and we needed medical facilities out in this area," Smith said. "That sort of a concern was the priority we had."

He also signed the bill that authorized the Texas Tech School of Law, further stretching the university's mission.

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