Garnett E. Smith of Moneta is the recipient of the 2010 William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech's highest honor, in recognition of his loyal and enthusiastic support of the university.
Smith was born and raised in Pulaski. His career exemplifies the idea that hard work and determination make it possible to achieve any goal. After the death of his mother, Smith began working, at age 13, bagging groceries at a local store. While in high school, he worked afternoon, evening, and weekend shifts at the local newspaper -- taking breaks to return to school for basketball practice.
With a good high-school education in hand, Smith began his 43-year career at Advance Auto Parts, then known as Advance Stores, an auto-and-home-supply chain based in Roanoke. He was promoted to assistant store manager in 1962 and continued to move through the ranks. Smith was named president and COO in 1985, and in 1997 became CEO of Advance Auto Parts, the Roanoke Valley’s only Fortune 500 Company. He retired in 2000 as vice chairman of the board.
Smith’s career and life are built on the principle of giving recognition and guidance to others. In 2001, he was named one of Roanoke’s 50 Most Influential People. He has served on the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center Board of Directors as an officer for 35 years, is a former board member of United Way of Roanoke, and he has held every office, including president, in the Pulaski Jaycees.
Smith has been involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Taubman Museum of Art, Goodwill Industries, Virginia Tech, and the American Cancer Society. Being named the 1998 Outstanding Philanthropist of the Roanoke Valley is one of many awards he has received.
At Virginia Tech, Smith has served on the Virginia Tech Foundation board and as a volunteer in various roles for The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future. His generosity has benefited the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center, athletics, University Libraries, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, the Holtzman Alumni Center, and the Skelton Conference Center. Smith’s contributions have also targeted endowed scholarships, benefitted capital projects, and provided unrestricted support.
Smith and his wife of 49 years, Patsy Thomas Smith, are the namesakes of the Virginia Tech Smith Career Center. He is a Golden Hokie, a Legacy Society member, and a President’s Circle member of the Ut Prosim Society, the university’s most prestigious donor recognition society.
The Smiths enjoy golfing, boating, gardening, traveling, and spending time with their daughter Wendy and son-in-law Alexander Boone.
Awarded at commencement, the Ruffner Medal recognizes individuals who have performed notable and distinguished service to Virginia Tech.