BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 8, 2024) – The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) mourns the loss of former President and CEO Jim Smither, who passed away at the age of 83 on July 2, following a brief illness. A 50-year veteran of the hospitality industry, Smither was a trusted leader and celebrated tourism professional.

“Jim was a member of an iconic generation of CVB CEOs, steeped in years of travel industry experience, that educated the public, local, state, and national officials about the importance of tourism to their communities,” said John Oros, current president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, who succeeded Smither in 2015. “He was highly regarded in all the destinations that he led, and personally, I was fortunate to have him as a valued friend and advisor after his retirement.”

Smither joined the GBCVB as president and CEO in 1993 and served for 22 years, making him the longest-tenured leader of the organization since its inception in 1969. During his storied career at the GBCVB, he was part of numerous critical projects for the destination, including Olympic Soccer in 1996, Indy Car racing, the Davis Cup, the development of the Uptown District, the Westin Birmingham and Birmingham Crossplex.

“Jim was a white shirt, black shoes only, suit and tie kind of guy,” said Mike Gunn, senior vice president of sales of the GBCVB, who worked under Smither’s leadership. “When he entered a room, people immediately took notice. He was a man’s man, yet he had a heart of gold, and would give you the shirt off of his back. He was firm in his commitments, and his leadership style was unmatched. He was truly one of my heroes.”

Smither was hired as president of the GBCVB after spending 10 years as executive director of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lexington, Kentucky. A dedicated destination management and facilities management professional, during his career Smither also worked as director of sales for the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Bureau, executive director of the Baltimore Convention Center, and held sales positions with bureaus in Houston and San Antonio.

Beyond his successful career in tourism and hospitality, Smither’s story was anything but ordinary. Born in the South Texas town of Chrystal City, his parents were ranch farmers, growing mostly spinach. During his life’s adventures, he spent several years as a rodeo cowboy on the Professional Rodeo Circuit and later modeled men’s clothing for Foley’s Department Store – often appearing in print advertisements in the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle. A voracious reader of nonfiction history, Smither accumulated an impressive personal collection of hardback books, which he donated to a local library following his retirement. A true “Southern Gentleman,” he also loved tennis, golf and the Birmingham dining scene.

“Jim’s advocacy for Birmingham was critical for our success today,” added Oros. “His vision and efforts played a foundational role in positioning Greater Birmingham as a destination that now generates more than $2.5 billion in economic impact through tourism.”