Businessman J.O. Smith Jr. dies at 63|[8/24/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 24, 2006

J.O. Smith, who moved from Greenville to Vicksburg where he built a family and river-based businesses, died early today, Aug. 24, 2006, at River Region Medical Center after an apparent heart attack. He was 63.

&#8220He had a heart as big as the world,” said Joyce May, a friend and owner of Walnut Hills restaurant. &#8220I don’t know anybody who did not like J.O. He just knew how to be a friend. He didn’t have to work at it, he just knew how.”

Smith was a native of Greenville and a graduate of Sewanee Military Institute and Mississippi State University. After college, he worked for a time as a youth Four-H agent with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service in Batesville. He moved to Vicksburg in 1968 to manage E.J. Platte Fisheries.

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A family friend said this morning that Smith was taken to the hospital early today and apparently had an attack on the way.

Steve Golding, a former partner and also an owner of a river-based company, said his first encounter with Smith was impressive. Smith was in the hull of one of Platte’s survey boats beating the rust off the metal so he could paint it.

&#8220It was 100 degrees and he never quit beating,” Golding said.

&#8220He was a borderline workaholic,” said accountant Ken Hicks.

Ronnie Andrews, an insurance executive and longtime Smith associate, described Smith as &#8220self-made” and &#8220successful.”

However, Andrews said, &#8220What I remember most about J.O. is not his passion for work but his love for his children.”

&#8220He didn’t love anything more than his family,” agreed Ernie Lane, an Oxford attorney who grew up with Smith in Greenville. &#8220His grandchildren were his life.”

Smith’s businesses in Vicksburg included Smith Towing Co., Beavers Diesel, Big River Shipbuilding and Hill City Towing Co.

Any one could have been a challenge, but, Andrews said, Smith had a hands-on style with &#8220a unique ability to deal with multiple challenges.”

Dan Waring of Waring Oil Co., a business neighbor to Smith’s Big River Shipbuilding at the E.W. Haining Industrial Center, also spoke of Mr. Smith’s business ability.

&#8220He was the best, good-hearted businessman you have ever seen,” Waring said.

It was at one of the businesses that tragedy struck 13 months ago on July 22, 2005. Jinx Peterson Smith, one of Smith’s three sons, drowned while conducting underwater repair work at Big River Shipbuilders, 404 Port Terminal Circle. He was 37.

Smith is survived by two sons, J.O. Smith III and his wife, Pam, and Patrick Smith; a daughter, Lela Smith Flowers, and her husband, Carl, all of Vicksburg; a sister, Melanie Goussett of Grenada; a brother, Ephram Smith of Yazoo City; and seven grandchildren.

Riles Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.