Insurance company executive, entrepreneur J. Smith Lanier II dies at age 85

Memorial service scheduled Monday in Lanett, Ala.

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 21, 2013 

J. Smith Lanier II, who ran one of the nation’s oldest insurance agencies for more than three decades out of West Point, Ga., has died at age 85.

Lanier, who also was a prolific entrepreneur, helping launch a number of firms — including ITC Holding Co. and Powertel, the cellular phone business bought out by T-Mobile’s parent company — died Thursday night at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. EST Monday at Spring Road Christian Church in Lanett, Ala., his lifelong church, the company said.

J. Smith Lanier & Co., an insurance and consulting firm, dates to 1868, with the launch of a small banking and insurance business by brothers Ward Crocket Lanier and Lafayette Lanier.

J. Smith Lanier II’s great-uncle, J. Smith Lanier, a telephone company executive, took the reins of the company around the Great Depression, with his daughter, Edith Lanier Wickham, helping run the company until selling it to J. Smith Lanier II in 1973.

“Thus began a new era for the company,” the company’s website said of the younger Lanier, whose “ strong beliefs made it possible to continue a family business built on the principles of service — first to God, then to one’s fellow man.”

Lanier was chairman and chief executive officer of the company — the name was changed from Lanier Insurance Agency to J. Smith Lanier & Co. in 1983 — for a quarter of a century before relinquishing the CEO duties to his nephew, Gaines Lanier, in 1999. In 2005, Gaines Lanier also became chairman of the board, with his uncle remaining as chairman-emeritus until his death on Thursday.

J. Smith Lanier II graduated from West Point High School and attended Auburn University for two years before transferring to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He earned a mechanical engineering degree there and served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

Lanier was a founding director of five publicly traded companies, most of them technology-based. He was involved with Async, SouthernNet, Interface, Valley Realty Company, ITC Holding, Avdata, National Vision Associates, Cookbook Brands (now Beverage House), Powertel (formerly Intercel and now T-Mobile) and ITC DeltaCom.

Other organizations he either led or served include the Auburn University Foundation Board, Callaway Gardens Foundation and the West Point Rotary Club.

Lanier was named Georgia Small Business Person of the Year in 1997 and National Small Business Person of the Year in 1998.

Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Elizabeth “Betty” Walker, and a host of children, grandchildren, nephews and a niece.

J. Smith Lanier & Co. today sells insurance and employee benefits services through an independent network of brokers in more than 90 countries and 500 cities worldwide, according to its website.

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