The Port of Beaumont has been a part of LaRue Smith’s life for quite a while now.
For almost two decades, she saw the port’s growth first-hand as her husband and former port commissioner Lee Smith talked excitedly about the next upcoming project, often coming with him for impromptu tours.
“Pretty much every time we left the house together, he would end up driving by the port and show me this ship or that project,” she said. “He loved the port and I learned to love it as well.”
Lee Smith, who became the first Black president of the port’s board of commissioners in 2018, died in October at the age of 79 just as his latest term was set to begin.
After an extensive selection process, the Port of Beaumont Board of Commissioners selected LaRue Smith out of a pool of five potential candidates to finish the rest of her late husband’s six-year term.
Along with her unique knowledge of the port, Smith also comes to the board with extensive experience in education and community development in Beaumont.
Smith retired from teaching high school math after 37 years as an educator, mostly at Beaumont schools, and holds a Master’s Degree in Mathematics from Prairie View A&M University.
She is a native of a small town in north Texas called Maud, but she eventually came to Beaumont after she and Lee Smith met while attending Prairie View together.
“I met him through a class we had, and then we started studying together,” LaRue Smith said. “That’s how we fell in love.”
Once her husband served and was discharged from the U.S. Army, the couple settled into his childhood hometown, where LaRue Smith started teaching in what was then the South Park Independent School District.
She was still with the district in 1983 when South Park ISD trustees voted to dissolve the district after a long conflict with federal desegregation efforts, and she found herself a part of the teacher transfer process when Hebert and Forest Park High Schools were eventually combined to form West Brook Senior High School.
She recalled it was a difficult situation for some people, but said she honed in her focus on her students, making sure the classroom was free from the distractions and bad feelings boiling outside.
“As a teacher, we would go to the classroom and teach children,” LaRue Smith said. “There were some hard feelings for some of the people, but my goal was to do the best I could. In the classroom, it was all the same.”
In her tenure as a teacher, she racked up a hefty list of accolades from the districts and organizations she served in. She is also a recipient of the Danforth Foundation Award for Outstanding Service to Education and Mirabeaux B. Lamar Award of Excellence in Teaching.
Smith said she hopes to bring her experience and passion as an educator to the board in order to encourage area students to excel and discover possible career paths in the maritime industry.
She is also focused on maintaining what she believes to be one of the essential economic drivers in Southeast Texas, and one of the great prides of her husband’s career.
“That was the thing my husband was big on, being proud of the port and encouraging people to learn more about it,” she said. “If I can do anything to carry on his legacy and help with the port’s success, I’m honored.”
Written by Jacob Dick