George T. Smith, former Georgia Supreme Court justice, lieutenant governor and speaker, dies at 93

Former Georgia Supreme Court Justice George T. Smith -- who also served as lieutenant governor and speaker of the state House of Representatives -- was remembered Tuesday as a jurist who never forgot his childhood growing up poor on a farm in southwest Georgia.

Smith died Monday at age 93.

“He was someone who had compassion for folks and helping folks who were in trouble,” his wife, Joan Smith, said Tuesday. “When he first went into the practice of law he didn’t make a lot of money, but he helped a lot of people.”

Smith died Monday of natural causes, his wife said. After being forced to leave the Georgia Supreme Court in 1991 because of the state's mandatory retirement age of 75, Smith worked almost two decades as an attorney, coming into his Marietta law office three times a week even in his 90s.

Former Supreme Court Justice Norman Fletcher said Tuesday that he didn’t know whether Smith would be remembered as a liberal or conservative judge. “His motivation was always just that the system worked fairly,” Fletcher said.

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Smith served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He graduated from the University of Georgia law school and started practicing in 1947. He quickly developed a taste for politics and was elected city attorney of Cairo in 1949. In 1959 he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served as speaker from 1963 to 1966. In 1967 he was elected lieutenant governor, an office he held until 1971. He was on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 1976 to 1980 and served on the state Supreme Court from 1980 to 1991.

Smith said later that he had hoped to stay on the court long enough to become the Supreme Court's chief justice. He waged a six-year legal battle against the state’s mandatory retirement age but lost, so he retired before his 75th birthday rather than stay on the bench and forfeit his state pension.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by H.M. Patterson & Son, Marietta.

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