Longtime Tire Review Editor Jim Smith passed away unexpectedly Feb. 18 while attending the Tire Industry Association OTR Conference. He was 57.
Jim spent more than 30 years working in the tire and automotive industries, with the last 16 years spent at the helm of Tire Review. Those who knew Jim know he was very passionate about the industry.
“Jim was a leader in our company and a champion of our editorial process. He was not afraid to speak his mind and was committed to unmatched quality. As one of the nine people to hold the title, Jim took the responsibility of being the editor of Tire Review seriously, often citing the work and example of the editors before him. He wanted what was best for the industry because he truly felt it was best for his readers,” Bill Babcox, owner of Babcox Media, parent company of Tire Review.
A Kent State University journalism major, Jim served as editor for a number of community newspapers in Northeast Ohio before joining Modern Tire Dealer as assistant editor in 1984. During his stint with MTD, Smith was promoted to senior editor and also served as editor of the Kovach Tire Report. Smith spent four years in brand and corporate public relations roles with Bridgestone Americas, before joining Nashville’s Stumpf Bartels Advertising in 1992.
Jim joined Tire Review in October 1999. Over the years he helped the publication grow and instituted a number of programs for the magazine, including the Top Shop Awards.
During his career, Jim also served on TIA committees, and was a board member for the Center for Tire & Service Excellence. In November 2014, Jim was honored with the Ed Wagner Leadership Award for his service in the industry he so loved.
Jim loved his family dearly and was very excited by his new role as grandpa.
Jim is survived by his wife MaryEllen, his sons Jimmy (Shana) and Alex (Liz), and grandson Grayson.
A Tribute to Jim: Mentor
The day Jim died I was driving home and noticed the flags were at half-mast. I’m not exactly sure why the flags were in that position, but for me it was a sign of mourning and memorial to Jim Smith. A cliché he would have hated, but so true.
While I knew Jim for less than three years, I’d be lying if I said he didn’t have an impact on my life. I will be forever grateful to him for taking a chance on me and bringing me onto the Tire Review team.
Jim introduced me to the tire industry and B2B publishing. He was both a boss and mentor.
Sometimes Jim would give you guidance on a story or background on an issue – he was a tremendous reference on all things tires. Other times Jim would throw you into the deep end and see if you could figure it out yourself. It was an effective method, and I know more about the industry because of it.
To many people Jim could come off as surly – he really enjoyed being at opposition – but he also had a softer, more caring side. His door was always open to discuss not only business, but life.
Among many things, Jim gave me advice about purchasing my first home and helpful homeowner tips thereafter. And while he always talked of the importance of getting work done, he was insistent that I took time for the important things in life, like family. He’d always say, “Get out of here kid,” when I’d work past quitting time.
I was always kid or K.C. to Jim. The first nickname annoyed me until I realized he meant it as a term of endearment.
In fact, Jim always made me feel respected. He listened to my opinions and never held my age or inexperience against me. And while our opinions on a topic wouldn’t always be the same, Jim didn’t automatically rule out what I had to share.
I think our differences complimented each other and we had a strong relationship growing. I’ll miss that.
For me Jim’s death is another one of his tests to see if I can “swim.” I hope to make him proud.
-Kristen Criswell, Managing Editor
As a writer, I don’t often find myself at a loss for words. But that’s exactly how I feel as I try to adequately describe just how significant of an impact Jim had on my life. I know he’d understand; there were rare occasions when he, too, struggled to craft the perfect wording to address an important topic for his monthly column in Tire Review.
Professionally, Jim played a starring role in the evolution of my career; I had the privilege of working with him for most of a decade. Jim hired me when I was brand new to the tire industry and the trade press, always taking the time to answer my questions and share from his vast experience. He also knew when to let me figure things out for myself in what he deemed a “sink or swim” scenario. I grew to love and respect the tire industry and its people because I learned the ropes from Jim, who was a passionate advocate for all things tire-related.
Over the years, Jim not only served as my mentor, but he became a good friend, offering support both on a professional level and when it came to life in general. I could always count on him for an entertaining story or a wry joke, and he possessed a seemingly endless vault of music trivia knowledge. More importantly, I could count on him for honest advice, particularly when it came to family – which he told me many times was the most important thing in life. Jim will be greatly missed because he touched the lives of so many, myself included, who will remember him with fondness and respect for many years to come.
-Denise Koeth, Senior Contributing Editor
For the past eight months, I’ve spent more time with Jim Smith and the Tire Review team than my family and friends. As the newest addition to the editorial staff, I was the newbie, the baby, or as Jim liked to call me the “kid.” As you’ve read from many of our staff, Jim was more than an editor and more than a boss. He was very much a father to everyone and took that role seriously with his own family and the young people around him. These past eight months Jim became my family, my work father and my mentor.
He took a chance on me and hired me straight out of journalism school with no background in the tire industry and gave me opportunities to travel and to learn. And, somehow, Jim helped me evolve from a girl who could barely change a tire to someone who enjoys the tire industry. Jim has helped me with more than just my career. He also gave me invaluable advice when purchasing my first car, dealing with appliance and home issues, finding time for family outside of work, training my puppy and his usual daily advice of “take care of your knees.” I will dearly miss our daily life update talks, which mostly consisted of talking about our dogs and our loved ones, or when I’d accidentally startle him when I’d pop into his office to ask him questions about tires.
Jim was a special person who always pushed you to reach your full potential, and although you didn’t always agree with him, he never treated you in demeaning way. He was gruff, yet kind, and genuinely cared about the people around him. There is no one quite like Jim. I’m glad I had the time I did to get to know him and will forever be inspired by him.
-Carley Hull, Associate Editor
A Tribute to Jim: Colleague and Friend
Jim’s lanyard display chronicles his more than 30 years in the tire industry. Just in his 16 years at Tire Review Jim traveled more than 1 million flight miles to dozens of countries, numerous states, and hundreds of ride and drives and shows.
What Jim’s lanyard display doesn’t show is the number of people he touched. Below is just a sampling of those he impacted while working in the tire industry.
The tire industry lost a true leader. We in the industry lost a dear friend. Jim Smith was one of the most intelligent individuals I have ever known. He had a great attention to detail. He was brutally honest. He was so self-effacing that, at first, one wondered if his modesty was justified. It wasn’t. Jim talked when he had something to say – not when he needed to hear his own voice.
Every time that I was with Jim, I saw his passion for his family, his friends, his industry, and for his life. Jim lived his life on his terms – completely and till the end.
I can truly say that I am a better person because of Jim. We all are. Whether it was the Tire Industry Hall of Fame, an industry-related issue like tire registration, or Tire Review’s “The Top Shop” award, Jim challenged the industry to strive for excellence.
Roy Littlefield – executive vice president of TIA
Each morning when the Tire Review email hit my in-box, I could not wait to see what Jim had on his mind that day. Just seeing his picture with hand on chin, looking very pensive and somewhat wise, you knew that a thought provoking challenge or idea would be coming your way. That’s what Jim did. He made you think. Each time we met, his desire to make our industry better would always shine through.
When I served as president of the TIA, I would frequently call Jim to ask for his opinion on the issues of the day. I knew that I could always count on him to provide a well thought-out answer and definitely an unfiltered response.
He was very intelligent while always remaining humble. Jim taught me a great deal about the tire industry by reading his words and listening to him during our many conversations. Sadly, the industry has lost a strong voice and a creative thinker. We have all lost a very dear friend.
Dick Gust – past president of TIA
Jim was a true friend to the independent tire dealer. Every day he showed us passion and concern for our future.
Many people have impacted our life in this business, but few had the true love and dedication to our industry as Jim Smith, he’s at the top of this list.
Jim shared with us his pride and excitement when he pursued and graduated after 32 years from Kent State University with his long sought after journalism degree.
We were so excited to hear his story and celebrated long distance. As I spoke to Jim on the phone, talking about his life-long vision, I was ashamed as I was a high school dropout – something I regretted all my life. However, Jim’s story triggered my beautiful wife’s imagination and I was told on the eve of my 65th birthday, Feb. 16, that Jim was her “Inspiration.” My wife had petitioned the school district for the diploma since I was just short six weeks of my own graduation and I was presented my high school diploma from Tucson School Board for my “Life Experiences”post 47 years.
Jim’s schedule did not allow him to be there, but he gifted a plaque to be opened after I moved my tassel to the right. Following with the theme of the Roast, Jim included a letter with a plethora of one liners. We raise our glasses to one of the greats; who has helped us, inspired us and made every one of us reach to be better in business and life. It will be a grayer world without our Jim. We miss you, goodbye our dear friend.
Howard and Pat Fleischmann – Community Tire Pros
Besides being an editor extraordinaire and true, old-school journalist, Jim was a great friend and an even better person. Loved to talk sports with him, especially about all his beloved Cleveland teams. The tire industry lost a giant with his passing.
Jim was both a true friend and a vigilant champion of the Independent Tire Dealer.
Frasier Tire Service Inc.
Jim was the kind of editor that every industry needs: passionate, connected, knowledgeable. I would often point out to Jim that he played the role of “curmudgeonly editor” so very well. He would just smile, taking obvious pleasure in it. Jim was also the kind of friend that one would hope to have in one’s life: caring, available and wickedly funny.
Brian Cruickshank – Northwood University
I could call on Jim anytime to discuss any issue in the industry and he would call me back, even from home. Jim had a passion for the industry – some may say controversial – but he was as fair as them come.
Alpio Barbara – Redwood General Tire Pros
Jim’s passion, integrity, and commitment to the tire industry were second to none. Those qualities were reflected in every story that he wrote and in every conversation that we had with him. It was a pleasure knowing and working with Jim. He will truly be missed.
Toyo Tire Group
Everyone at Hunter loved working with Jim; He was such a champion of the industry, particularly in the inclusion of women.
Our thoughts are with the Babcox family.
Madeline Triplett – Hunter
Jim was a friend, mentor, and industry leader. I will remember him for challenging me and the tire industry to be better. He reminded me that the easy way is not always the right way.
Jon Schadl – K&M Tire
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Honoring a passionate and dedicated man, a mentor who unselfishly shares his knowledge, passion and love to help others. God bless you, Jim Smith!
Jim was a good and decent man and a person I delighted in interacting with. He was a man with joy in his heart and great passion for people and the tire industry.
Dr. Timothy G. Nash – Northwood University
I can’t tell you how sad I am. Jim was a one of a kind man. How will he ever be replaced?
Bud Luppino – Bud’s Tires
Jim was a leader promoting industry values with a proactive ambassadorship on behalf of the tire and automotive service industry. We, like many others, will miss Jim’s physical presence, but will have pleasant memories of him going forward.
North Carolina Tire Dealers Assoc. Board of Directors
I really enjoyed my time with Jim over the years – in person, over the phone and our emails. His passion and professionalism were always at the top – he will be deeply missed indeed.
Steve Akridge – Virginia Automotive Assoc.
Jim was a such a good, honorable, decent man and he’s left us far, far too soon.
Dan Zielinski – Rubber Manufacturers Association
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have known Jim Smith from many different angles over the past 30+ years as a co-worker at Bridgestone, a vendor buying advertising from him, and a mentor helping me learn to write a column for Tire Review and most importantly as a friend.
As a co-worker Jim always offered insights and opinions, and his sarcastic humor always raised your mood with laughter and memories. As a mentor his guidance on column writing was invaluable (We’re past deadline where’s your damn column?). As a friend, Jim was always there to offer a helping hand and share his soul in good times and in times of need.
Rest easy my friend. You truly touched my life and you will be sincerely missed.
Jim will be sorely missed. His candor and commonsense approach to the issues facing our industry and the independent tire dealer in particular brought enlightened reporting to the day’s events. Rest in peace, Jim.