Journalist, New Yorker, Humanitarian

Ann Richards, Liz Smith and Hillary Clinton

“The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.”

– Liz Smith

Literacy Partners is mourning the loss of our dear friend, champion, and benefactor, Liz Smith. The world-famous columnist, a one-of-a-kind Texas-born New Yorker, passed away on November 12, 2017. 

With dreams of the big city and a love of the silver screen, Liz famously came to New York City with just $50 in her pocket after graduating from the University of Texas in 1949. She aspired to be the next Walter Winchell, but ultimately, her giant heart and self-professed awe of celebrities meant that her style could not have been more different. In a review of her best-selling autobiography “Natural Blonde” (2000), the New York Times said, “Her brand of gossip is the old-fashioned kind, not the embarrassing or repulsive stuff dug up by so many of her journalistic colleagues…When she escorts us into the private lives of popular culture’s gods and monsters, it’s with a spirit of wonder, not meanness.”

Liz had a career spanning close to 70 years – working for nine New York newspapers and numerous magazines, including the New York Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan and Variety. Her column was syndicated into dozens of newspapers across the country. She also had an 11-year stint doing celebrity commentary on WNBC’s “Live at Five,” winning an Emmy in 1985.

Liz was a lovely person – sassy with a great sense of humor, a keen insight into the human condition, and a real knack for making friends with interesting people. She also had an inspiring and humbling compassion for those less fortunate. Knowing right from wrong deep in her bones, she was never afraid to speak her mind but always kind, fair and judicious. She always found the good in other people. And through her words, but more importantly, her actions, she has made the world a better place – and New York City a better City – particularly for those less fortunate. She dedicated herself to the cause of literacy like no one else and it is impossible to overstate the profound impact she has had on many thousands of families across the City.

Liz got things done.

She first came to Literacy Partners after seeing a documentary on illiteracy that featured the organization. She was astonished and said, I was so impressed by what these few people were trying to do – A young man got up at the end, and he looked like a Madison Avenue Harvard Yale graduate and he said I can’t read – and I have a wonderful job and I make my wife read to me at night all of my papers and things – and I thought “Holy Cow – we could teach this guy to read.”  and thus began a lifelong personal commitment to help New Yorkers through the power of literacy education.

She single-handedly made Literacy Partners what it is today, raising close to forty million dollars to support our mission to empower New York families through literacy education. More than 27,000 students learned to read and write or speak English because of Liz’s extraordinary vision. She literally changed the course of history for these families.

More than 20 years ago, Liz established the Liz Smith Fund at Literacy Partners to encourage others to join her in giving the gift of reading to their fellow New Yorkers. Over the years, several thousand concerned citizens have contributed. The Fund is accepting donations in her honor and will be used to carry her legacy forward by continuing to give low-income and immigrant families access to the basic literacy education they need to succeed in today’s world.