For the past 10 years or so, I have been having lunch with Glee Smith every Thursday. Glee often jokes that someday I’ll have to write an account of these lunches, rather like Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Leaving aside the fact that I cannot write anywhere near as well as Mitch Albom, the fact is that these lunches have been one of the best experiences of my life.
I decided to write about them in this column because last week marked a milestone in Glee’s life. On April 29 he celebrated his 90th birthday. As far as I’m concerned it wasn’t only a personal milestone, it was a milestone for Kansas because Glee has served the state of Kansas nearly all of his 90 years.
Although Glee Smith is now a lawyer at the local Barber Emerson law firm, he practiced law in Larned for many decades. In that role he served the people of Larned and western Kansas as an advocate, counselor and friend. But Glee didn’t limit his activities to his home area. He held virtually every important position in Kansas state government except for governor. Most importantly, he served as president of the Kansas Senate for many years.
In that capacity Glee led the Republican delegation and was influential in guiding Kansas through the 20th century. He is a graduate of Kansas University’s School of Journalism and School of Law. Never has KU had so loyal and supportive an alumnus. He has served as president of the KU Alumni Association and of the KU Endowment Association. To this day he is actively involved in KU affairs and serves on multiple committees. If ever there was someone who bleeds crimson and blue, it’s Glee.
Just this past month the Journal of the Kansas Bar Association featured an article on Kansas lawyers of the “greatest generation,” those who served this country during World War II. Of course, Glee is there; he was a navigation instructor for the U.S. Army.
It’s easy in the current atmosphere of cynicism and distrust of government to forget that men and women have dedicated their lives to the betterment of the people of Kansas since territorial days. This year, of course, is the sesquicentennial anniversary of Kansas statehood. This is the year that we are celebrating the lives of the founders of this great state. I think it’s rather appropriate that Glee is celebrating his 90th birthday in the same year as Kansas celebrates its 150th birthday.
It boggles my mind, I have to admit, that his life spans 60 percent of the history of the state. I also have no doubt that, without his decades of service, Kansas would have been a poorer place. And I think we all need to celebrate the lives of those men and women who have given so much to this state and to the nation, as Glee Smith has done.
My “Thursdays with Glee” have been tours of Kansas and U.S. history led by the memories of one of those who helped to make it. His wit, his wisdom, his integrity, have been the high point of my life for the past 10 years. So, I want to wish him a belated happy birthday and say that I look forward to writing about him and his achievements in coming years in 2021 when he celebrates his centennial.