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Hundreds gather to remember, say final farewell to Houston philanthropist Lester Smith

Houston came together today to remember legendary Houston oilman and philanthropist Lester Smith. A service for the man who gave back so much was held Monday at Congregation Beth Israel. 

Smith leaves behind so many positive changes in the town he loved to call home. 

Neil Bush, the chairman of Points of Light, remembered him as a visionary: "Lester Smith is a real point of light in this community. My mom had a very real vision of everyone reaching their God-given potential through literacy. Lester got that and has been a real generous donor to us.  He's probably the kindest, caring, most benevolent human being I knew." 

Smith made his millions in the oil and gas business. He started his own company which is still going strong Monday, but his contributions to Houston stretch well beyond.

Mayor Sylvester Turner told us: "Lester has been and incredible supporter of this city. When it comes to health care here, major contributions to Texas Children's Hospital here, Baylor College of Medicine, but I especially want to underscore what he's given to the health care community."

Dr. Kelly Zuniga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston, said the Smiths donated a total of $17 million to the museum over 23 years, most recently a large donation to help with expansion plans. 

"Their gift of $15 million enabled us to expand it by a total of 30,000 square feet, so it's been a remarkable transformation," Zuniga said.

In honor of their gift, the new building will be named Holocaust Museum Houston, Lester and Sue Smith Campus.

During Monday's service, Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel fondly remembered Smith; "He talked big and lived bigger. He was also, as we remember, a very uniquely deeply compassionate human being. Who bent down to listen to all."  

The legendary oilman learned early on the importance of giving and he did it in a big way. He and his wife whom he married in 1995, first established the foundation to help fund medical research after Smith was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer. 

Throughout the years, the Smiths have reportedly donated $100 million to the various institutions that make up the Texas Medical Center. Smith had an ongoing battle with cancer and received a double lung transplant in 2016. He is survived by his wife, Sue Smith, two children and seven grandchildren.


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