Small Town Publisher With Big Time Impact

09/22/2011 04:18 pm ET | Updated Nov 22, 2011
  • Don McNay Author of Brand New Man: My Weight Loss Journey

"From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come"

-Bruce Springsteen

"It's the little things that mean a lot."

-Sonny and Cher

As noted in the song lyrics, plenty of lip service has been paid to the idea that small acts can have a big impact.

The key is picking a day to make the small steps.

My mentor Dr. Al Smith decided one day in 1963 not to have a drink. It's 48 years later as I write this but Al has not had one since.

A small act for one individual with an incredible outcome on Kentucky and the nation.

Once Al quit drinking, he devoted his life to making a difference.

I dedicated my book Wealth Without Wall Street, A Main Street Guide to Making Money, to Al, my granddaughter Adelaide and my fiancée Karen Thomas.

I said in the book dedication that Dr. Al Smith that "I want to be Al Smith when I grow up," He is the role model for how I would like to live the rest of my life.

You can read about Al later this fall in his autobiography, Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism. It was published by Pied Type Press, with Clark Legacies, Louisville.

Al, age 84, a retired newspaper publisher and journalist, is best known as the 33-year host and producer of "Comment on Kentucky," a popular and influential program on Kentucky Educational Television.

When Al retired as host in 2007, KET Executive Director Malcolm Wall said that "Al and Comment on Kentucky represent the essence of what public television was created to deliver to the American public."

Smith served as head of the Appalachian Regional Commission for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan from 1979 to 1982.

But his greatest skill is making things happen, one person at a time.

Countless people have told me their personal stories about something Al did to make a difference in their lives or careers. Al doesn't discriminate in whom he touches. I've had multimillionaires, manual laborers and a ton of journalists all tell me their stories about how Dr. Smith touched their lives.

He's made a huge impact on life. He made me a regular on "Comment on Kentucky" when my only credential was being a weekly column in a small city daily. He took a lot of heat from many "big time" journalists for having me on the show but the appearances on "Comment" gave me the exposure to become and author and syndicated columnist.

The overall theme of Wealth Without Wall Street is that small acts by individual people can have a huge impact. The line from the Jaycee Creed, 'service to humanity is the best work of life" is true.

It makes my day when some unknown person contacts me and tells me that some column, often one I wrote years previous, got them to tear up their credit cards or make financial changes in their lives. I've had several people tell me I inspired them to stop an addiction or get into rehab. Its things like that keep me writing.

It's easy to get caught up in the stresses of daily life or become cynical and thinks that small moves or individual acts don't matter.

Al Smith is proof that they do.

The irony of Al becoming Dr. Smith is that Al never made it to his undergraduate college graduation ceremony. His doctorate is an honorary one from the University of Kentucky.

Although I was an avid follower of "Comment on Kentucky," the first time I saw Al in person was 1983. He was candidly speaking to a group of Kentucky's brightest high school students. He told them how his alcohol addiction caused him to drop out of Vanderbilt University and forfeit his scholarship. His talent as a writer allowed him to have a number of prestigious journalism positions at major New Orleans publications but he would eventually lose them because of his drinking.

He wound up broke, borrowed money for a bus ticket to Russellville, a small city in Western Kentucky. While in Russellville, he stumbled into an AA meeting, stopped drinking and turned his life around.

He eventually bought the newspaper he worked and several others. He recognized that while in Russellville, which is far from a major city or media center, he could have a larger impact.

He credits his wife, Martha Helen for telling him, "Living in a small town is fine, as long as your vision didn't stop at the city-limits sign."

Al developed the ultimate "think globally, act locally" view of the world.

He said, "When I figured out that Russellville was a miniature of the world, I got my head on straight, everything that went on in the bigger world was there in the little world. The police, the schools, the fire department, the need for jobs, for health ... every issue was right on my desk every day for a country editor to think and write about. The people involved were right there at the Rotary Club and the church with you, playing ball with your kids, there was no barrier between you and the people you were writing about. They would come right in off the street and tell you what they thought. If you wrote about a school principal, you were sitting with him the next day at the Lions Club breakfast eating pancakes."

I doubt that Al realized that his decision to stop drinking would impact so many people. The act, and the setting of Russellville remind me of George Bailey, the character that Jimmy Stewart played in the movie It's A Wonderful Life. Bailey was given the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.

I don't want to know my life would have been like if Al Smith had never been born. Hundreds of others can make the same statement.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestsellling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money

McNay, who lives in Richmond Kentucky, an award winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Group ( which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianship's. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.

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