A Houston philanthropist whose name has become synonymous with massive, often surprise gifts to local charities, has died. Lester Smith, a well-known oilman who, with his wife, Sue, contributed more than $150 million to support various Houston organizations, passed away at his home on March 14, according to a statement. He was 76 years old.
Smith was born in Wharton on August 16, 1942. A second-generation Texas oilman, he was a three-time cancer survivor and received a double lung transplant in 2016. His core philosophy, “to whom much is given, much is expected,” drove his life-long passion for giving, touching millions of lives and leaving an indelible mark on our city and world, a family spokeswoman said. Smith was known for being an affable family man and quick to lend a hand to worthy causes.
No surprise, then, that Lester and Sue Smith are celebrated icons of Houston’s society and philanthropic scene, famously donating to organizations such as the Baylor College of Medicine, Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Harris County Hospital District Foundation, Holocaust Museum Houston, March of Dimes, Seven Acres, Stages Repertory Theatre, and Texas Children’s Hospital.
It wasn’t uncommon for the Smiths to surprise such organizations with massive gifts. Most recently, the Smiths surprised an A-list crowd and their fellow philanthropic friends Glenda and Russell Gordy with a $2.5 million check to complete The Gordy, Stages' new, 66,850-square-foot campus, named in their honor.
Last October, the Smiths raised an massive $83 million during Texas Children's Hospital's "Legacy of Motown" gala, currently the highest-grossing single-event fundraiser in Texas history, according to the Houston Chronicle, which also notes that the Smiths’ Memorial-area home boasts one of the city's few private ballrooms. (The Smiths are noted ballroom dancers.)
Smith is survived by his wife, Sue; son, Stuart Smith, and daughter-in-law, Limor; daughter, Shelly Hendry, and son-in-law, Brian; and seven grandchildren. Funeral services are pending, according to the family spokeswoman.
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” Smith once declared to an audience during a fundraising event for the Holocaust Museum Houston. Indeed, Houston is better for Smith’s “overdoing” and passion for helping others.