Born March 8, 1912, in Williamson County, Texas, Preston Smith grew up one of 13 children of a poor tenant farmer. He worked his way through high school and college at Texas Tech during the darkest days of the Depression. With a partner, he opened a movie theater in Lubbock and by 1944 he owned six theaters. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1945 and to the Texas Senate in 1956. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1962.
He concentrated his efforts on working with the state's business interests. Smith was dedicated to improved higher education. He signed into law new universities and brought several existing colleges into the university system. He also helped establish new medical, dental, and law schools in the state. Criminal justice was also a focus of Smith's term, which saw the first comprehensive drug abuse program in Texas. Another focus was the passage of the first minimum wage law in the state. Many Texans also remember Smith's participation in the "Drive Friendly" auto safety campaign.
Smith returned to Lubbock after defeat in the 1972 election and was active in civic and business affairs. He attempted a comeback in 1978 but was defeated in the primary. He later chaired the Coordinating Board for Texas College and Universities (now the Higher Education Coordinating Board). Today, Smith continues an active life and works at Texas Tech University as a special assistant to the chancellor.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: link: Texas State Cemetery.