Sen. Gary Smith recalls his grandfather, the late Henry Smith Jr., as someone who could always envision how things could be improved for the better.
“People would say he’s such an optimist, he thought yesterday was going to get better,” Smith said. “He was always pushing for positive change, whether in business or in politics, to improve conditions for citizens.”
Henry was a representative of St. Charles Parish on the New Orleans Aviation Board for 26 years. He was also the longest serving member of the aviation board and took a special interest in its construction committee – he was a contractor by trade, so it was a natural fit.
His positive contributions in those regards inspired state lawmakers to name the I-10/Loyola Drive interchange in Kenner in his honor. It was officially dedicated in a special ceremony on Oct. 27, with several local and statewide leaders on hand to speak on the occasion.
The $125.6 million I-10/Loyola Drive Interchange Improvement Project is aimed at improving interstate, local and Louis Armstrong International Airport traffic flow through the Kenner area. The project includes two airport flyover ramps with direct access to I-10, widening of the interstate with auxiliary lanes between Williams Drive and Loyola Blvd., and the construction of Louisiana’s first DDI (diverging diamond interchange). Both flyover ramps have been named for Henry Smith, marked by a sign with Henry A. Smith Memorial Road emblazoned.
Gary Smith said it’s a fitting gesture given what his grandfather stood for, and that he and his family were honored by it.
“He loved the area – he was a lifelong resident of St. Charles Parish, and he was so proud to be from this region,” Smith said. “At the previous (airport) facility, he worked hard to make sure people’s experience with the airport was positive. I think he’d be pretty proud of the fact, just as we are, that this new flyover that’s going to really improve traffic conditions at the airport would be named in his honor.”
Smith said the flow of traffic to and from the airport should be notably improved via the project improvements.
“They’ll be able to get to and from the airport without having to go through those intersections … instead of having the red lights and congestion, you’ll able to have people moving in a more fluid manner right there,” Smith said.
Henry passed away in 2011. He is the founder of the St. Rose-based Magnolia Companies. His position with the Aviation Board saw him work with five different St. Charles Parish President and New Orleans Mayor administrations.
“It says a lot that he was able to work across all those administrations and not only continue to be reappointed to his position, but also to get so many things accomplished,” Smith said.
He also took his role as a representative of his home parish very seriously.
“One of his proudest tasks at the airport was making sure St. Charles Parish citizens were employed and could benefit from the airport from an economic standpoint,” Smith said. “He pushed to get St. Charles Parish officers working on airport detail, for St. Charles people to work there as vendors, taxi drivers … anything to enhance things for local residents.”
For Smith, his time as a state senator is winding down after six terms and 24 years. He said it was a special day for him to be able to give remarks at the ceremony as one of the last official duties of his tenure – fitting in many ways as he calls his grandfather one of his greatest political mentors and influences.
“It was also special to have my family there … my dad has served on the Aviation Board since my grandfather’s passing, for the past 12 years, representing St. Charles Parish and continuing that tradition. It was special for all of us and I was honored that I was invited to speak.”