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Heroes & Friends - Sam Smith

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There is an adage that “Your world is what you make of it.” While that is true, you won’t make much of the world without the help of others — people willing to invest in you and your future. There is probably no better environment to find this support than right here in East Texas.

I graduated from Bullard High School and began my college career at Tyler Junior College before getting a degree in business from Stephen F. Austin. While in Nacogdoches, I met my wife, Jill. We shared an appreciation for the welcoming nature of people in this part of the country. We found that they truly cared about who we were as people, and they wanted to help us prepare for our future lives. Looking back now, we both realize how well we were prepared for our future, and we’re glad to be back in East Texas.

Tyler Junior College helped me launch a successful career that has included supervising many Ivy League graduates. They are quite brilliant in their business acumen — but many are no better prepared for the business world than the graduates you would find right here in East Texas. I believe it is the people — the professors, the administration and staff — who work hard to provide that personal touch and instill confidence. Confidence is a key factor in success, and having educators willing to provide the support and direction to build this confidence is worth more than the ivy hanging on those walls.

Chicago was my first home out of college, and I began a career that allowed me to move quickly up the ranks of corporate America. My roles have led me to work and interact with some of the most influential people in the world, and their subsequent achievements allowed our family to prosper. We have been very fortunate to have led a wonderful life, but Jill and I knew that something was missing in all of this success.

In 2005, while living in Northern California, we realized that our children, Sheridan and Jensen, were not surrounded by an environment that was conducive to their futures. It was time to come back home and give our children the chance to experience what we were so blessed to receive so many years ago.

We were approached about helping an organization that is internationally based near Tyler – Mercy Ships. I met with Don Stephens, the Founder, and later Mercy Ships International Board Chairman, Mike Ullman (CEO of JC Penney). I was immediately impressed by the incredible mission of hope Mercy Ships provides. We then made one of the more far-reaching decisions of our lives and shut our business down to join the team at Mercy Ships. Jill now leads our “Anchor Church” program, and we utilize all the life experiences we have obtained throughout our careers to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

We are constantly asked why Mercy Ships is based in land-locked East Texas. It is largely because East Texas is filled with people with a firm moral foundation and a compassion and desire to help their fellow man. We have been so blessed to be surrounded by this community and also have facilities like TJC, UT Tyler, UTHSC, Trinity Mother Frances, and East Texas Medical Center to help fill our ranks. We are living proof that this community builds leaders for tomorrow, but they also build people of character.

There may be people reading this that want to get involved with Mercy Ships, and we welcome and can use your help. If you can’t engage with us, that’s okay, too! Please take time to volunteer at your church or local school, coach a youth team, or even take classes at TJC to improve your skills so you can help others. One of TJC’s three promises is its commitment to community service. We at Mercy Ships have a saying, that our volunteers have found a very powerful way to share their blessings with the forgotten poor.

East Texas shared its blessings with us so many years ago, and my family is honored to be back in this community joining with TJC, Dr. Metke, and you to make a difference in the world.

TJC Hero and Friend Samuel Smith is a respected speaker and lecturer, and has served in many senior executive capacities with major apparel manufacturers throughout the world. During his career, he has helped to formulate brand and marketing strategies for Jack Nicklaus, Hart Schaffner & Marx, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Nino Cerruti, Christian Dior, and many more. He has also served as a consultant to global retailers such as Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Marshall Fields, May Co. and Dillard’s. Now as CEO of Mercy Ships, located in nearby Garden Valley, he oversees one of the most respected world-wide Christian charities. With the help of thousands of volunteers and donors worldwide, Mercy Ships utilizes hospital ships to bring desperately needed medical care to the forgotten poor. Learn more about Mercy Ships at