SMITH, PRESTON EARNEST (1912~2003) Preston Earnest Smith, Governor of Texas, was born March 8, 1912, in Williamson County, Texas. One of 13 children, he attended schools in both Williamson and Dawson Counties. Upon his graduation from Lamesa High School in 1930, Smith worked his way through Texas Technological College, now Texas Tech University, where he received a Bachelor of Business Arts degree in 1934. In 1935, he married fellow Texas Tech graduate, Ima Mae Smith, of Crosby County.
From 1934 to 1945, Smith was extremely active in business and real estate investments in Lubbock and around the state. Becoming very well known throughout West Texas, Smith turned to politics. In 1944, he won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. He held that seat for six years and returned to Lubbock to begin his campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Smith ran against former State Senator and Secretary of State, Ben Ramsey, in the Democratic Primary and lost. In 1952, Smith ran unsuccessfully against incumbent State Senator Kilmer B. Corbin, but beat him in 1956. Taking his seat in 1957, Smith served in the Senate until 1963, when he was elected Lieutenant Governor.
Serving with John B. Connally and presiding over the Texas Senate, Smith was able to use his political and business capabilities to help guide the State of Texas. When Connally announced that he would not seek reelection, Smith was the logical choice to be the next Governor of Texas. Elected in 1968, he took office on January 21, 1969.
Smith's two terms as Governor were severely marred by political unrest throughout the United States and scandal in Texas. The Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal were plaguing President Richard Nixon and the country, while the Sharpstown Stock Fraud Scandal shook Texas to its core.
The scandal single handedly changed the face of Texas politics. Almost all incumbents were voted out of office, including Smith. When the 63rd Legislative Session met in January, 1973, half of the members of House of Representatives were new, including the Speaker, and a larger than normal turnover occurred in the Senate. New leaders for Texas' highest offices were also inaugurated. Smith lost his bid for a third term in office and returned to Lubbock.
During his long political career, Smith accomplished a great deal for Texas and Texans. As a member of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate and as Lieutenant Governor and Governor, Smith sought to better Texas. Large portions of the legislation he authored, sponsored, or signed into law dealt with improving education. Some of his work includes: the creation of four new state schools, a new University of Texas Medical School in Houston, the Texas Tech Medical School in Lubbock, a University of Texas dental branch and a nurses training school in San Antonio, a new undergraduate nursing school in El Paso, and an expansion of the University of Texas medical branch in Galveston. He also authored, co-authored, or sponsored legislation establishing a permanent building fund for all state colleges, increased, on a regular basis, salaries of teachers, expanded vocational education, and created the Texas Education Code.
After leaving office, Smith returned to Lubbock and picked up with his civic and business dealings and ran unsuccessfully for Governor again in 1978. In 1981, because of his work for Texas education, Smith was appointed to the Texas College and University Coordinating Board, now called the Higher Education Coordinating Board by Governor William P. "Bill" Clements. Smith served as chairman of the board until his term ended in 1985.
Governor Smith passed away October 18, 2003, in Lubbock and was buried at the State Cemetery October 21. He was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Ima Mae, who passed away in 1998. He is survived by two children, a son, Preston Michael "Mickey," and a daughter, Jan.