Monday, May 10th, 2021

William "Russell" Smith Story


Living an interruptible life

by Rob Lauer

The late William “Russell” Smith shortly after founding Russell’s

The late William “Russell” Smith shortly after founding Russell’s

It has been said that people can approach life in two ways. One is to live as if life's objective is the creation of an outstanding resume. The focus is on accomplishments- degrees earned, jobs held, money and property accumulated, honors, awards and distinctions received. The other is to live with one's eulogy in mind. The focus is on character, deep personal relationships, meaningful endeavors, and making the world a better place. Listen to Buddy Smith speak about his father, and it is evident that the latter was the case with William "Russell" Smith.

"Often people will say a lot of flattering things at a funeral as a way of honoring the person who passed on," Buddy observes. "With my dad, I can say nothing but good things and still be totally honest."

"No matter what my dad
had going on in his life,
when someone went to him-
no matter what he was doing
or in the middle of-
he made that person feel
as if he lived an interruptible life."
          - Buddy Smith

Buddy's father, William "Russell" Smith, passed away this past March 27th.  Born in Richmond, he served in the Navy before founding Russell's Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electric in 1977. Buddy is now the president and owner of this hugely successful company. When speaking about his father, however, business and financial success are barely mentioned.

"When we had Dad's funeral, only nine people could attend because of the pandemic," Buddy says. "When my nephew spoke, he said that no matter what my dad had going on in his life, when someone went to him- no matter what he was doing or in the middle of- he made that person feel as if he lived an interruptible life.  "Grandpa lived an interruptible life,' my nephew said. "That is something we should all strive to live.'

"That idea really stuck with me," Buddy continues. "I wish I was not so hyper-focused on accomplishing what I need to get done on any given day. I need to develop the ability to realize that no matter what the situation is, the person right there in front of me is what is most important at that moment."

Buddy remembers growing up feeling as if he, his sister and mother were the most important things in his father's life. "Dad was always busy running the company, but I don't ever remember him not being around for me," Buddy recalls. "One of my earliest memories was of running service calls with him in the snow. I don't think I did that very often, but the times when I went with him really stand out in my mind. I remember that when he had a garden, I would be at his side as he worked there. As a kid, I was really into skateboarding, and Dad was always totally supportive. He got me a railroad tie for doing tricks on. Whenever I learned a new trick, he would come outside to watch me do it and encourage me.

"Remembering those things about him makes me aware of the way I father my three kids," Buddy says. "Just the other night, my daughter wanted me to jump on the trampoline with her. She's really into gymnastics, and she wanted to teach me her new routine. I felt like a goofball, trying to keep up with her. It was getting pretty late in the evening, but we stayed out there jumping on the trampoline anyway. The neighbors were probably thinking, "What in the world is he doing out there?' But it was important to my daughter- and it was important to me that the two of us spend time together. I know from the time I spent with my dad, how important that is for a kid."

Buddy says that his father was a quiet, reserved, thoughtful man. "Dad kept a bunch of old notebooks filled with detailed notes he made about processes and procedures he had come up with for the company. He had a lot of very solid ideas- really good business plans. But when summer kicked in- the company's busiest season- Dad felt he needed to get in the truck and put himself out there with the workers and the customers. He could have easily spent most of his time in his office, focusing on all those processes and procedures he had developed. But he put more value on his personal relationships with the people who worked for him and the people his company served. Most people outside of the company never realized that for him, the most important thing about the business was the people who worked with him. He became a mentor to them about personal issues, career advice- you name it. No matter how much of his time someone needed, he would give it to them."

"To say his faith was important to him would be an understatement.
Serving God and serving others
was Dad's top priority in life."
            - Buddy Smith

There is a bit of irony in the fact that William "Russell" Smith made a name for himself installing and repairing heating and cooling systems. "He grew up in a house without running water and electricity," Buddy shares. "When he was young, he chopped off a finger while chopping firewood. Growing up in those conditions, he could have used his business as a way to simply acquire wealth, but money was not what was most important to him.
"My dad went to Bible College at age 30, thinking that he would become a preacher," Buddy explains. "Though he ended up taking another career path, he taught the Bible to a group from his church for years. To say his faith was important to him would be an understatement. Serving God and serving others was Dad's top priority in life.

"After Dad retired, he and Mom worked with missionaries who served in third world countries but had to come back to the U.S. to maintain their citizenship. While they were in the States, my parents would house them, feed them, and help them raise money for their work. A lot of those missionaries were from places like the Philippines and New Guinea. They didn't have vehicles here. So Mom and Dad would also drive them wherever they needed to go."

Such generosity of spirit was an open secret to all who knew William "Russell" Smith.

"I miss my Dad," Buddy concludes. "I am sad to know that a man like him is no longer here among us. But Dad had no regrets. He lived a good life and left behind a happy family. We knew he loved us, and he knew we loved him. What more could one want out of life?"

Russell's Heating & Cooling

1100 Executive Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23320