PRESTON SMITH was born near Georgetown in Williamson County, Texas. He worked his way through Texas Technological College (later Texas Tech University), earning a B.B.A. in 1934. After graduation, Smith and a partner opened a movie theater, and by 1944 they owned a chain of theaters and had branched out into other businesses and real estate. In the process, Smith became a well-known figure in West Texas. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1944, the Texas Senate in 1956, and Lieutenant Governor in 1962. Smith had earned a place as a mainstay of the political establishment. In 1968, he was elected governor of Texas. Education was the passion of Smith’s career. During his tenure, he signed into law new universities and brought several existing colleges into the university system. He also helped establish new medical, dental, and law schools in the state. Criminal justice was also a focus of Smith’s term, which saw the first comprehensive drug abuse program in Texas. Another focus was the passage of the first minimum wage law in the state. Many Texans also remember Smith’s participation in the “Drive Friendly” auto safety campaign. Smith’s second term was dominated by fallout from the Sharpstown scandal, which destroyed the career of House Speaker Gus Mutscher, derailed Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, and resulted in the defeat of many long-term office-holders in the 1972 election. After leaving office, Smith returned to Lubbock and was active in civic and business affairs. He attempted a comeback in 1978 but was defeated in the primary. He later chaired the Coordinating Board for Texas College and Universities (now the Higher Education Coordinating Board),and worked as a special assistant to the chancellor of Texas Tech University. He was buried in Texas State Cemetery.
Governors of the American States, Commonwealths and Territories, National Governors’ Conference, 1972.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.