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ABINGDON, Va. -- Jack C. Smith, founder and chairman of the board at K-VA-T Food Stores, the operator of Food City supermarkets in the Southeast, died yesterday in his home here after a brief illness. He was 81.
Smith served as Food City's c.e.o. until passing the torch to his son, Steven C. Smith, in 2001. He was born Aug. 21, 1925 in Grundy, Va., and was the only child of Buchanan County natives Curtis and Elizabeth Belcher Smith.
Smith was appointed to the United States Naval Academy by U.S. Congressman John Flannagan, effective 1944, where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
After marrying the love of his life, Jewell Garland Smith in September, 1947, Smith served seven years active duty in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Panama and San Diego, Calif. He returned to his hometown of Grundy in 1954 to open his first 8,800-square-foot Piggly Wiggly store in 1955, with the help of three special stockholders: his father, Curtis Smith; uncle, Earl Smith; and cousin, Ernest Smith.
In 1963, Smith added a second store in South Williamson, Ky., followed by a newly constructed third location in Pikeville, Ky. in 1965, and a store in Prestonsburg, Ky. in 1967. Over the years, the company continued to grow, acquiring Quality Foods, a 19-store chain, in 1984; and adopting the Food City name. He acquired 37 White Stores in 1986, 11 Kennedy Piggly Wiggly locations in 1998, seven Winn-Dixie stores in 1999, and finally eight BI-Lo locations in 2006.
Today K-VA-T Food Stores operates 95 Food City and Super Dollar supermarkets throughout southeast Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and northeast Tennessee. The company also operates its own 1,200,000-square-foot distribution center and water bottling facility, Misty Mountain Spring Water, L.L.C.
"Jack Smith was a man of great vision and possessed great wisdom," said Jesse Lewis, Food City c.o.o. and s.v.p. "His wisdom and vision kept our company on the cutting edge of use of technology and change in the fast-paced, ever-changing food industry. He led the leaders, taught the teachers, and trained the trainers. In addition to being a very wise businessman, he was also a true patriot. He loved the United States of America and was a firm believer in the free enterprise system."
Smith's strong sense of community involvement was evident in the countless organizations supported by Food City. He received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including Tennessee Grocer's prestigious 1996 Grocer of the Year Award.
Smith served on various boards, such as the Federal Reserve Board of Richmond, Va., Virginia Food Dealers Association Board of Directors, holding the office of president in 1981, president of National Piggly Wiggly Operators Association in 1969, and president and member of the Grundy Rotary Club.
He was also a long-time member of National Grocers Association, where he received The 2002 Clarence G. Adamy "Great American" Award.
Jack Smith was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Jewell "Judy" Garland Smith, in 2003.
He is survived by one son and daughter-in-law, Steven C. Smith, Food City president and c.e.o. and Debbie Smith of Abingdon, Va.; two daughters and sons-in-law, Stephanie and Frank David of Richlands, Va. and Sharon and Thomas Hembree of Abingdon, Va.; one sister-in-law, Ione Saylor of Westminster, Md.; two brothers-in-law, Bob Watts of Annapolis, Md. and Claude Garland and wife Angela Garland of Westminster, Md.; six grandchildren, Alison David, Joshua David, Drew Hembree, Melanie Hembree, Katie Smith, and Chloe Smith; and one special cousin, Lee Smith of Hillsborough, N.C.
For additional information or to express sympathy, please visit Farris Funeral Service at www.farrisfuneralservice.com.