J. Smith Lanier II and Elizabeth Hayward Walker grew up in Lanett, Alabama. Both attended West Point High School, and both were from Christian homes. They were strong believers in high moral and ethical standards and shared a common core of values.
After high school, Smith attended Auburn University for one year and then moved to New York to complete his schooling at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. Upon graduation, he joined the Navy and traveled the world before heading home.
Elizabeth, known to family and friends as Betty, attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama for two years before transferring to Auburn to complete her education degree. After teaching second grade for one year in Montgomery, she too was drawn back home.
In Lanett, Smith joined his aunt in a small family insurance business formed by his uncle, J. Smith Lanier, beginning the journey that led him to become one of the nation’s most successful small businessmen. He and Betty married in 1957. Although Betty assumed the traditional wife/mother role, she was an integral part of all of the family’s business endeavors. Her intelligence and keen insights made her invaluable as Smith’s key confidante and chief counsel.
Smith now presides as chairman of J. Smith Lanier & Co., one of the oldest and largest independent insurance brokerage firms in the country and was named National Small Business Person of the Year in 1998. In addition to their involvement with J. Smith Lanier & Co., Smith and Betty have helped to launch many other business ventures. Smith has served as founding director of 10 corporations including ITC Holding Co., a communications pioneer, and Interface, Inc., a commercial interior products company and a world leader in promoting environmental sustainability. At present, he serves as director or trustee of seven corporations and four universities.
Although J. Smith Lanier & Co. and other business pursuits have been important to their lives, Betty and Smith have never lost sight of what they felt mattered most–their family, church, and community. As from the very beginning of their marriage, they continue to provide good stewardship to the bountiful blessings that have graced them both individually and as a couple.
Smith was named chairman emeritus of J. Smith Lanier & Co. in 2005. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to Auburn University, the Alumni Association honored him with its 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award. The following year, the couple was recognized by First Lady Dianne Bentley and the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion for their contributions to the state of Alabama.