Former Governor Hulett Smith died in Arizona on January 15, 2012, at age 93. Born in Beckley, Smith was surrounded by business and politics during his youth. His father, Joe L. Smith, was a newspaper publisher, bank president, mayor of Beckley, state senator, congressman, and state Democratic Party chairman.
During the 1950s, Hulett Smith rose through the Democratic Party ranks but lost a primary campaign for governor against fellow Democrat Wally Barron in 1960. However, Governor Barron appointed Smith to head the new Department of Commerce, which promoted economic development and tourism. Smith was particularly proud of his department’s support for traditional arts and crafts.
Smith was elected governor in 1964. During his term, the legislature abolished the death penalty, passed new human rights legislation, increased teacher pay, and launched a three-year school improvement program. Smith also pushed for what was considered the strongest strip mining regulations in the country at the time. He believed conservation and recreation would become cornerstones of the state’s future.
After leaving office, Hulett Smith returned to Beckley and remained active in private business and civic matters for the rest of his life.