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Legendary Houston Philanthropist’s Funeral Brings Laughs Along With Tears — Remembering Lester Smith, a One of a Kind

Saying Goodbye to Man Who Gave Away More Than $150 Million Was a Party — Just Like He Wanted

BY // 03.18.19

The late, fabulously wealthy and generous philanthropist Lester Smith absolutely loved his memorial service, held on Monday at Congregation Beth Israel. We know this because the man, who wrote his own obituary in the first person a year before his passing, fully orchestrated the celebration of his life that resonated with his delicious love for showmanship.

Smith, 76, died at home in the early last Thursday morning.

A few hours after his private/family burial at Glenwood Cemetery, the man, who — along with his wife beloved Sue — joyously gave away more than $150 million was widely praised by his closest friend and 33-year partner in the oilfields Russell Gordy, by Rabbi Roy Walter, by Rabbi David Lyon and by his professional sidekick and close family friend  Trish Morille. It was Morille who was enlisted by Smith to assist in writing his book You Gotta Dance Like No Ones Watching and in writing the touching yet humorous obituary.

“Lester asked me to help write his obituary after receiving his new lungs. It took me a long while to get him a first draft, almost a year, actually,” Morille tells PaperCity.

“Last year, he and I sat down to finish it. He spoke and I listened and wrote. . . I took out all the typos and cuss words. At the same time, he started planning his funeral and shared with Sue, his family and me what he wanted — most of all, a lot of laughs and good stories. And, in the end, he did it his way.”

There were plenty of laughs as Gordy shared the tomfoolery and tricks the duo played on one another throughout their partnership. Both rabbis praised Smith’s generous heart and shared examples of his high spirits while Morille shared tales of his many generosities and his rambunctious character.

As Rabbi Walter said, Smith was truly kind, generous and good hearted but most of all he was “outrageous.” And that’s a compliment that Smith surely relished.

His presence among the 900 guests filling the synagogue to bursting was palpable as the Ernest Walker Singers performed a beautiful rendition of “You Know Me.” Smith had quipped when planning his service that he had heard the chorus at President George H.W. Bush’s memorial and figured if they were good enough for the former president then they were good enough for him.

Tears of joy and sorrow fell as at the closing of the service as Cantor Star Trompeter sang Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.” This tune a more appropriate choice than Smith’s theme song of “I Will Survive,” which inspired the playful oilfield wildcatter throughout his various health struggles which included three bouts with cancer and most recently a double lung transplant.

“Suffice it to say that at the end of the day – and that day has come – I only hope that in some small way, I did what I could to make this world a better place than when I laid eyes on it for the first time,” Smith wrote at the end of his obituary. “Don’t send flowers, please. DO go out and do what you can to help out a friend or total stranger in need.

“Go out and make someone smile. Go out and ‘dance like no one’s watching’ and make the most of each and every moment. In the end, we can all agree, life is one helluva ride.”

Paying tribute: Mayor Sylvester Turner; Texas Children’s Hospital CEO Mark Wallace; Texas Children’s Cancer Hospital director Dr. David Poplack; Holocaust Museum Houston board chair Benjamin Warren and museum CEO Kelly Zúñiga; philanthropist Margaret Alkek Williams; former Mayor Bill White; Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation president Julie Baker Finck and foundation co-founder Neil Bush; president emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute Dr. Jim Willerson; Stages Repertory Theatre artistic director Kenn McLaughlin, managing director Mark Folkes and board chair George Lancaster; chairman emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council Fred Zeidman, March of Dimes Houston market executive director, Darcie Wells; legendary broadcast journalist Dave Ward and Laura Ward, Houston Children’s Charity CEO; famed defense attorney Rusty Hardin and wife Tissy; and Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Matthew Ellis of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, and oncologist Dr. Kent Osborn and wife Dr. Carolina Gutierrez.

And, no Lester, in response to your obituary quip, your wife, Sue, did not bring a date to the service.

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