MIGNON C. SMITH 1931-2012

Noted horsewoman and philanthropist, Mignon Comer Smith died Friday of an apparent heart attack in Washington, D.C.  She was 81.

Smith was born in Birmingham, Alabama on February 7, 1931.

Smith took up riding as a child and at the age of 13, she began her career as a volunteer by selling war bonds with the help of her first horse, Invasion. To no one’s surprise, the young Smith sold more bonds than anyone in her school.

She continued her equine pursuits while a student at the Madeira School in McLean and later at Briarcliff College in New York.  She would go on to attend the University of Alabama where she studied political science and journalism, two lifelong passions.

An avid rider, Smith rode in amateur races and earned her colors with the Fairfax Hunt. Smith suffered a broken back and a concussion following two separate incidents in 1956 which prompted her to quip, “I was confused about the purpose of leap year.”

Smith established the first pony club in the Birmingham, Alabama area for young riders and the team went on to compete at a national level.

Smith, was an accomplished breeder and owner for 50 years racing on the flat and over jumps. The horses she bred won over $2.4 million in purses including 9 black type winners. 

In 2010, her homebred Class Bopper was honored as the Virginia-bred Champion Over Fences after winning the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial to go with over $159,000 in career earnings.  Smith also bred and raced 2006 Virginia-bred Champion Over Fences Class Vantage, a stakes winner over jumps and stakes place on the flat with career earnings of over $105,000.  Smith’s third Virginia-bred champion over jumps was Class Shadow who won $142,466 including the Peapack Hurdle Stakes.

In April of 2005, she led the NSA leading owners list following a victory by her homebred Class Yankee. Class Yankee, by Northern Baby, out of one of Smith’s homebred mares would go on to win $140,916 both on the flat and over jumps.  The talented mare would win the Oakely Stakes and the Brookmeade Stakes at Colonial Downs.

CLASS VANTAGE (Libbie Greenhalgh Photo)

Smith also bred Class Yankee’s half-brother Class Concern who won $143,721 including the Humphrey S. Finney Stakes.  He also set a new track record at Aiken.

Other top Mede Cahaba runners included Complete Zen ($159,566, National Hunt Cup, etc.); Complete Number ($145,125, 2nd Decoration Day H., etc.); Class Smash ($125,222); Clear Potomac ($110,280, Masked General H. etc.); Conga Tempo (World Playground Breeders Cup Stakes); Class Chief (Double Jay Stakes); Class Secret (3rd Temple Gwathmey H. Gr.2) and Cadent (3rd Nick Shuk Memorial) among others.

In recent years, Smith’s Mede Cahaba Stable and Stud had been among the leading Virginia owners and breeders.  Since 2006, Smith’s homebred runners have earned $1,001,632 at various racetracks and sanctioned steeplechase venues.

CLASS BOPPER (Coady Photography)

A long-time member of the National Press Club, Smith served 30 years as a radio journalist prior to retiring and turning her attention to horses, politics and philanthropy.  She was a White House correspondent and was in the White House Press Room the night President Nixon resigned.

Smith retired as Washington correspondent for the Alabama Radio Network after some thirty years. Smith was a member of the Congressional Radio/TV Galleries and Society of Professional Journalist as well as a long-time member of the National Press Club.

In February 2007 she was honored by the Alabama Broadcasters’ Association with the award of Lifetime Membership.  Also in 2007, she was inducted into the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences’ Hall of Fame.

Smith recently created and funded a scholarship program in Alabama in honor of her parents J. Craig and Page T. Smith. Her father was president and CEO of Avondale Mills, one of the South’s oldest textile companies.  Smith’s great-grandfather Braxton Bragg Comer was the governor of Alabama from 1907 to 1911. He doubled the state’s support for public education while in office. He founded Avondale Mills which, under the leadership of Smith’s father was one of the first in the country to offer profit-sharing, educational opportunities for mill workers and their children, and even recreational facilities to its employees.

The J. Craig and Page T. Smith Scholarship Foundation is charged with choosing worthy Alabama high school graduates for full college scholarships   Begun with a gift of $10 million, the scholarship program has supported more than 99 students since inception, with 55 now in the program.

Unlike most scholarships, the Smith scholarships do not require straight A’s or top test scores, but rather reward students who have worked hard for their family and community, perhaps while overcoming economic or familial hardships. Most scholarship recipients are the first in their families to attend college and would not otherwise have been able to seek higher education.

According to Ahrian Tyler Dudley, the foundation’s administrator, the scholarship program now will receive an additional $20 million bequest from Smith making it the largest public education endowment in the state of Alabama.

Smith also honored her father with the establishment of the J. Craig Smith Endowment Chair for Integrity in Business at the University of Alabama. Distressed by recent corruption scandals in the business community, she hoped that her father’s values of integrity, honesty, and fair play will be supported by both the endowed chair and the Initiative for Ethics and Social Responsibility, a campus-wide initiative at the University of Alabama to support and enhance citizenship among students.


A long-time member of the Alabama Republican Party, Smith was Alabama’s first young Republican Committee Woman and served as alternate delegate at large to the 1956 and 1960 National Republican Convention. Smith returned to her Birmingham townhouse regularly to vote and to serve on jury duty.

Of no surprise to those who knew her, when Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions wanted to honor her on the floor of the United States Senate for her generosity to Alabama students, she refused stating she did not want Senate calendar clogged up by frivolous honary ceremonies.

GIGI (Bill O’Brien/Washington Times)

Active to the end, Smith only recently gave up the keys to her 1976 Cadillac, nicknamed Gigi (Giant Green Gas-Guzzling Goddess) and lived in two apartments in Washington’s Watergate complex.

When she wasn’t travelling to Alabama or at the races she sailed the Chesapeake Bay on her 35-foot sailboat.

At the time of her death, she was a member of the Board of Directors of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and was tirelessly lobbying the Breeders Cup to select Colonial Downs as a future venue.  Smith won the VTA’s Award of Merit in 2005.