Giving it away
He might have failed English, but millionaire oilman Lester Smith has written abook, a good one
When the curtain rises on Barbara Bush's Celebration of Reading next month, there will be a first-time author in the mix of notable writers. One who failed English twice, made millions in the oil field, won two national dance championships and has gone 17 rounds with the big C, as in cancer.
Hello, Lester Smith.
Enjoying a healthy dose of self-confidence, the extraordinarily successful wildcatter decided in 2008 that he wanted to be part of the Celebration of Reading excitement. Smith and his wife, Sue, had been long-time supporters of the event and that night when former President Bill Clinton read from his book Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, Smith was moved to action.
He had something to say, he wanted to put it in writing and share it with as many people as possible. Three years, 19 months of hard work, much laughter and a few tears later, You Gotta Dance Like No One's Watching has hit the bookshelves. And Smith will be reading from this part-inspirational/part-wickedly funny book at the Hobby Center on April 28.
"I had a story to tell," said the 68-year-old dynamo, sitting in the living room of his expansive Memorial area home that has seen more charitable fundraisers than some hotel ballrooms. "How do you live your life and pay it forward to other people and be as good a person as you can. That's the premise. Sue and I have been blessed and it is our responsibility to share our blessings with those less fortunate and with the medical community."
Now, if those words lead you to think that this is some gooey, teary tome filled with halos, think again. You obviously don't know Smith or his writing sidekick Trish Morille. Reading You Gotta Dance is like having a conversation with Smith or rather listening to the hyper-active, spirited, fantastically generous philanthropist. For example, one of the 18 fast-moving, entertaining chapters recalls the evening that Lester first met former President George H. W. Bush — in the men's room, at the urinal.
The book offers rich insight into the man who has given away millions and millions to the Houston medical community, explaining, as he says, "how life experiences turned into life lessons that made me the person that I am today."
The fast-paced chapters detail his success in the oil fields, his health issues (one heart attack, bladder cancer and prostate cancer), his mission to put prostate cancer on the front burner, his pups and his approach to being bald.
Those who know the Smiths at all know their love of and success at ballroom dancing and that Lester's theme song is Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." The tune serves as a ring tone on his cell phone.
Intertwined throughout the tales is his enduring relationship with Sue. "We have a very incredible love for one another . . . I have been a shit and I am not a perfect person," he said.
But a generous one he certainly is. Lester adds later in the conversation that he and Sue are giving away all the proceeds from his most recent gusher.
"We have everything we need. Look at this house. Do we need anything else?"
In a serious moment during our late-afternoon visit, Lester's eyes fill with tears as he recalls his health battles.
"Cancer steals your hope. It steals your plans for your birthday party, your plans for retirement . . . Nobody told me I was going to die but I sure thought I was."
In his continuing support of cancer research, all proceeds from the book are going to studies worldwide in breast cancer and genomes. Each dollar raised will be matched by the generous Lester and Sue Smith Foundation.
"I hope readers of my book learn the joy of paying it forward," he said. "It is the absolute best feeling in the world and giving to other people, especially to those who don't have and who can't do for themselves.
"After it was all said and done, I felt different," he said of finishing the book. "I was kind of at peace with myself. I understand who I am."
You Gotta Dance is published by Bright Sky Press and is available for purchase here. My bet is that you will love the book and the man behind it.