Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By Mark Wineka
Former N.C. Rep. A. Neal Smith, a widely recognized Democrat in local and state circles, died early Monday morning at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
The Woodleaf resident was 73 and, at the time of his death, chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party.
Smith wore many hats in state government and played key roles in several initiatives, most notably the start of the N.C. Transportation Museum at Spencer Shops.
Besides his three terms in the N.C. House from 1974-1980, Smith held high-level positions in the departments of insurance and labor in both the 1980s and 1990s.
But Smith also made his mark as a teacher, in his work for the physically impaired and as a community activist.
Sandy Reitz, a former Rowan County Democratic Party chairwoman, said Smith had a quietness, patience and timing that “was very appropriate for government.”
“I appreciated that,” she said, describing him as always understated but effective.
Former Rowan County Commissioner Hall Steele and longtime Democrat Charlie Peacock each noted that Smith’s teaming up with Rep. Robie Nash of Salisbury and Sen. Jack Childers of Lexington made for a strong legislative delegation in the 1970s.
All three were instrumental in the formation of the N.C. Transportation History Museum and establishment of the non-profit N.C. Transportation History Corp., Peacock noted.
Smith sponsored the bill that led to creation of the museum and assisted the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources in negotiating for the transfer of the Spencer Shops buildings and 43 acres from Southern Railway to the state.
“I thought he did an excellent job (in Raleigh),” Steele said.
Smith sponsored legislation to make North Carolina the first state to endorse the Congressional resolution calling for the creation of a barrier-free environment for the handicapped.
He was instrumental in the enabling legislation to create programs for pre-school hearing impaired children. In 1975, he introduced the bill allowing teachers to receive their pay over 12 months instead of 10.
He voted against the state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and for life sentences in armed robberies.
He introduced a bill in 1976 to increase the state tax on cigarettes to 4 cents a pack. It failed.
He also voted in 1976 against allowing twin-trailers on state roads.
Smith declared himself against liquor-by-the-drink in 1978, a year when he and his wife, Elizabeth, both ran for state office. He won re-election to his House seat, while she was unsuccessful in a bid for the N.C. Senate.
In the House, Smith eventually served as chairman of the Committee for the Budget on General Government and Transportation and vice chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, Highway Safety and Military and Veterans Affairs.
He also served stints on the Council on Educational Services for Exceptional Children and on the White House Conference on Library and Informational Services.
A Republican uprising in 1980 led to Smith’s ouster from the N.C. House when he lost to Brad Ligon.
N.C. Insurance Commissioner John Ingram appointed him as deputy commissioner in charge of consumer affairs in 1981. He later served in the N.C. Department of Labor as an assistant director of apprenticeship and training and assistant deputy commissioner of labor.
Smith was one of the community voices against the western Rowan County location of a state hazardous waste treatment plant in the 1980s.
He ran for the N.C. House again in 1994, but lost to Republican incumbent Charlotte Gardner. Smith also was an unsuccessful candidate for register of deeds in 1992.
State Rep. Lorene Coates, D-N.C., was a year behind Smith at Woodleaf High School.
She described Smith as very reserved but “always working hard for the Democratic Party ó he and Elizabeth both.”
Coates said Smith also was a wonderful singer and always helpful to her in every way. “He was a good guy,” she said.
Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Pfeiffer University and a master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he focused on pathology and audiology.
Early in his career, he served as executive director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf in Washington,, D.C., where he also served on the White House Conference for Employment of the Handicapped.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or email@example.com.