Tribute – Remembering Jim Smith, CTIE – A Friend and Colleague

Written By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC, Co-Founder – Travel Professional NEWS



It is with a heavy heart that we reflect on the death of one of our industry’s best, Jim Smith (AKA Smitty). The shocking report of his passing this week hit so many of us who knew and loved him very hard. He was simply an amazing human being and one I am proud to have been able to call my friend for over 24 years. I will miss him so very much.


Jim had so many accomplishments over the years, both professionally and personally. Whenever we spoke, one of the first things he would say to me was “Hey, how is surfer boy Tom?” and then he would share with me news about his sons. He had such pride as their father. He always had a kind word and smile which in of itself is a legacy we can all strive for.


I reached out to several industry colleagues who knew and loved him and join me here to read some of the heartfelt and fun thoughts they have shared. It helps to give those of you who may not have known him a sense of the kind of man he was. For those of you that knew him, it will give you a smile and a nod because you can see him in these statements.


“Jim was one of those rare guys who could fit in with the dock workers or fortune 500 CEOs – he was in a sense, raw but wicked smart. One of my early interactions with Jim was when he hired me to speak at a GEM meeting. In the middle of my presentation he came in the back to watch which was not unusual, but then with a big smile gave me a one fingered gesture. The best part was that later he shared with me that someone in the audience saw him and told him he was disrespectful and inappropriate. He told me that his response was “That is simply how I showed him I loved what he was doing.” With him you expected the unexpected.

Many years ago, when I visited his home, or should I say shrine to Rock and Roll, I was surprised at how little in his home was travel related for a guy who lived and breathed and helped shape our industry. But his love and encyclopedic knowledge of music was again the enigma that he was. Jim always had story to tell, an idea to share, or a hand to help – he will be truly missed.”

Scott Koepf, CTC, MCC
Senior VP of Strategic Planning
Cruise Planners


“While most called him Smitty, I called him C.J. because you never knew what crazy (Jim) thing was going to come out of his mouth. Jim had an anecdote for everything a sharp dry wit, and he will be greatly missed by all that knew him.”

Betsy Geiser, Vice President
UNIGLOBE Travel Center


One of the hardest things a person has to do when faced with a loss, is try to put into words what that person meant to you, and to so many others.

Jim Smith was that person. His sudden loss has numbed me and my husband Shelly.

I met Jim in the late 1980s at a Travel Trade conference where I was beginning my speaking and training career. We bonded as fellow New Yorkers (even though he was from Queens and I from Brooklyn), and we became fast friends and colleagues for over 30 years. He was as always, a mentor, a coach, a cheerleader for me and for so many others.


In the early 2000s, I asked if he would moderate a panel on travel for people with disabilities, and he was on board from there on. We worked together on many projects over the years, and I was thrilled to support him as he worked with Andy Garnett to build Special Needs Group. Creating the Certified Accessible Travel Advocate and fulfilling over 5,800 professional travel advisors was a highlight of his career. I am proud to say I was the first one certified.


Always wanting to pay it forward, Jim was my most frequent guest speaker for over 15 years at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami. Whatever his position, whatever the course I was teaching, he would come to my classes on campus where he loved to “corrupt those young minds!” It is truly fitting that many of those students whom he touched with his humorous but enlightening discourses, as well as many who worked with him directly through internships or positions after graduation, reached out to me to say what an influence he had on their lives.


Jim was not only a colleague, but a true friend to Shelly and me. We had many fun times together and it was wonderful to see how proud he was of the “Twin Tornadoes,” and how Angela completed his life.


“Rest easy my friend.”

Roberta Schwartz, MCC CTC
Imagine Vacations


“I met Jim over 20 years ago through our mutual affiliation with SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality).  At first, I was intimidated by him but grew to love his sense of humor as well as his sarcasm.  His personality really struck home with me as a fellow native New Yorker.  Jim also knew when to be serious and I often called on him for advice when I needed a guiding hand.  He was instrumental in my decision to become a Cruise Planner, best business decision I ever made.  Over the last several years I had the opportunity to work with him through our mutual relationship with Andy Garnett, owner of Special Needs at Sea.  I will miss this larger than life one of a kind guy terribly.”

Debra Kerper, CATA, ACC
Easy Access Travel


“Jimmy was always the “wild guy”. He loved that image and his love of Rock and Roll and all his work at concerts, gave him a mile-long list of stars he’s befriended. I have always held Jimmy in high respect for all he taught me in the consortia business and his huge heart for his passions with the travel industry and those whose lives required special needs. While he seldom wanted people to know, his heart was as large as his chest could hold. His primarily focus on life was his boys and extended family and on making people better by knowing and being around him and being an awesome friend!”

Brent Hubele
Retired Industry Executive


“It’s amazing how many lives Jim has touched. He was truly a good man filled with compassion and passion.  He certainly kept us entertained, but I will personally remember him for his dedication to education and how proud he was of his CTIE. He was a role model for many and always gave generously of his time. We lost a great one.”

Diane Petras, CTIE
The Travel Institute


Thank you for reading this and sharing in this tribute to Jim. Social media was flooded yesterday with messages of times remembered and special stories about this very cool guy. While many tears have been shed these last few days, many smiles of fond memories have graced those of us who knew and loved him. I know Jim is looking down on all of us with his ever-present smile on his face saying, “It’s cool guys… not a bad gig up here!”