Al Smith, Getting His 50-Year Wings

I got to witness a fascinating event this month: the 50-year celebration of when journalist Al Smith stopped drinking and started his journey
to greatness.

Of all of Al’s historic accomplishments, stopping drinking was one of the toughest. To make it for 50 years, one day at a time, is an inspiration to all of us.

Al turned 86 this month as well. He’s written two books in the past three years and operates with the energy of a man half his age.

He fought a severe battle with alcohol in the early part of his life. He lost numerous jobs in New Orleans and wound up in Russellville, Ky. There he stopped drinking, bought the paper he was writing for, bought some other papers and ascended into greatness.

Al didn’t subscribe to the “dog eats dog” business model. He made it to the top by constantly helping others. His demons were replaced by angels.

People battle different demons. I’ve never been big on drinking, but I fight compulsive eating. I started a weight loss group and we have had tremendous success. I’ve been attending Zumba classes and catching the enthusiasm of
my classmates.

A group can help an individual see the light.

The theme of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is that one person can have an impact on those around them.

Everyone needs positive affirmation, but those who battle addictions need it the worst. They need to know that they add value to the world.

There is nothing worse than seeing a friend or loved one in the grips of a demon like drugs or alcohol. They feel helpless and you feel helpless. You want them to “snap out of it.”

Recovery is a process that people have to do for themselves. Something has to guide them to the light.

I turn to Al when I need sage advice. As a man who has seen life’s ups and downs, he has a perspective that commands my respect.

He has not walked my walk, but he certainly knows the neighborhood.

In one of my first conversations with Al, I asked him how he stopped drinking. It was a personal question, but I suspected Al wanted to talk about it.

He did. His openness and honesty keeps the demons away. His spirit of candor and compassion is the personality that captivated television audiences for
33 years.

Al has had tremendous success in journalism and business, but what makes him happiest is pushing other people along.

People constantly tell me how Al played a pivotal role in their lives. I hear from the rich and powerful and those who aren’t. He has touched so many people in the journalism business that I stopped counting.

Al is like Clarence the Angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Clarence got his wings by helping George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) recognize his worth.

Al helps people discover talents that they didn’t know they had.

Bailey had done much for his community, but he needed Clarence to point that out to him.

People battling demons need a Clarence in their lives. It might come from a group or another person. I’ve seen people inspired by public figures.

Al makes an impact in a public and private manner. His energy is fed by the knowledge that he is making a big difference.

Particularly in my life.

Don McNay of Richmond, Ky., is the best-selling author of “Life Lessons from the Lottery.”