Earl and Rachel Smith started the company in Marietta in March 1962, in the back of a building off the Church Street Extension in Marietta; currently the location of Run Around Sue’s.
Before opening the business, the couple had lived in Atlanta since marrying in 1953. After Earl Smith had worked with two different companies in Atlanta to learn both the sales, engineering and installation side of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, or HVAC, business; he and Rachel Smith moved to Marietta to start the business and raise their two daughters.
“I had a good job, but I knew I had to make a decision about what I was going to do — I knew I could work on the side to live without a paycheck for a while,” said Earl Smith, founder and chairman of the board. “I describe it (the decision to open the business) as naive rather than stupid.”
At 81, Earl Smith still comes into the office regularly, though has turned over day-to-day management to his son-in-law, Barry Abernathy, who is president of the company.
“I didn’t realize until I was much older that my parents started this business with a child on the way and in a place where they didn’t live,” said Debbie Smith Abernathy, vice president of marketing at E. Smith.
It has been a family affair since the beginning, and Earl Smith gives equal credit to the company’s growth and longevity to his wife, Rachel Smith, who managed the inside operations while Earl managed the sales and service department. Rachel Smith remains vice president.
“It has not been easy. We took the business home with us then, and we still do,” Earl Smith said. “We did whatever we had to do.”
According to Earl Smith, this included Rachel Smith doing payroll work from her hospital bed after giving birth to the couple’s second daughter, Cheryl.
The Smiths relocated the business to its current location on Industrial Park Drive, off Cobb Parkway near the Walker School, in 1964.
Barry Abernathy started in the company’s service department in 1981. When Earl Smith first ran for public office, he asked Barry to assume more management responsibilities. Barry Abernathy assumed the role of president in 1998.
In 1984, Earl Smith succeeded Earnest Barrett for one term as chairman of the Cobb County Commission.
“I’ve never met anyone like Earl,” Barry Abernathy said. “Even now, he still does more for the community than most people ever do. Until the Strand Theatre was named for him, he was always in the background.”
The company employs 48 people. Though Earl Smith has endured two surgeries in recent years, he still comes into the office.
“As long as we can make it, we still get up and go somewhere to work,” he said.
The anniversary event is open to the public. RSVP to Joann McNeese by Oct. 1 at (770) 422-1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.