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In a Good Place: Our neighbor Shelia Smith

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

When 14-year-old Shelia Smith was delivering the latest issue of The Southwest Times to customers on her paper route, she was following a family tradition.

“I’ve always been a worker,” said Smith. “Both my mother and father worked from the time that they were in high school and so I guess I mirrored those aspects of them in my life.”

Back then, the teenager from the town of Pulaski would get up before dawn to deliver newspapers to 70 or so customers on her bike or on foot, depending on the day.

“Sundays were walking days,” Smith recounted. “I’d have to pick up my papers by 6:30 and deliver because I had to be at church by nine o’clock. That was a lifetime ago.”

Since then, Shelia Smith has gone on to have a successful business career and began 2020 as the newest President of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s going to be fun,” Smith said of her tenure as President of the PCCC. “I’m looking forward to not only working with our existing businesses but all the new things that are going to be coming our way and I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of that!”

Shelia Fagg, Smiths’ maiden name, grew up in the neighborhood around Pulaski Middle School. Her dad, Howard Fagg, worked at Kroger’s and her mother, Doris Fagg, worked at and eventually managed the Jewel Box jewelry store at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Main Street. Doris Fagg, who Shelia describes as an entrepreneur, eventually bought Edward’s Jewelry in the Pulaski Mall behind Hardee’s on East Main Street. Under her parent’s ownership that store became Howard’s Jewelry.

Shelia attended PCHS and found much enjoyment in playing her clarinet in the school’s marching and concert bands.

“I had a scholarship to go to King College with my music, but I lost two of my grandparents right before graduation, so I decided school was not for me,” Shelia recounted.

In 1982, Shelia began working at the Virginia National Bank, at the corner of East Main Street and Washington Avenue, as a receptionist. This location is now the home of the Pulaski County School Board. That banked merged into Sovereign Bank, then Nation’s Bank until ultimately being bought up by Bank of America. By this time Shelia worked as the Executive Secretary for the bank’s Commercial Senior Vice President.

In 1991, Shelia married Al Smith and became Shelia Smith and the two remain married to this day. In 1993, her bank decided to move their offices to Roanoke.

“We just decided it was too far of a daily drive … I probably should have looked for a job before saying I wouldn’t take the other job but I was unemployed for about six months before finding work with the New River Valley Development Corporation, which is part of the NRV Planning District Commission,” Smith explained. “That’s the organization that started the New River Competitiveness Center, which is now the Business Center on Viscoe Road in Fairlawn.”

Working at the New River Valley Development Corporation, Smith helped obtain start up loans for small businesses, as well as helping to get the Pulaski County Regional Jail built, primarily by gathering data to support the project.

In 1995 the couple’s daughter Katlyn Smith was born and 18 months later their son Blake came into the world.

Shelia enjoyed her work but after a few years passed, the Smith’s decided it was time for a change.

“My husband decided that he wanted to do something more with his entrepreneurial skills and wanted to buy a flower shop,” said Shelia. “Thus we bought a flower shop in Blacksburg, even though we knew nothing about flowers.”

The couple acquired Amy’s Classic Flowers in 1998. Soon after, the couple bought Helen’s Florist in Blacksburg, the Dublin Flower Shop and Valley Florist, which was located in Radford.

“It was one of those things that I didn’t think that I would do but having some business experience and a financial background gave me an opportunity to utilize my experience and really make the business work … and help people along the way,” said Shelia.

Al Smith had become more involved in his Environmental Land Waste Services (ELMS), which left Sheila with the dealing with most aspects of the flower business.

“So we had four flower shops at one time,” Shelia said. “We were blessed with our children but trying to run between four locations became a little more cumbersome.”

Smith recounted the numerous times that she would take her young children along with her to make deliveries to weddings, funerals and any number of occasions that called for flowers.

“We were trying to raise two kids and run a business, seven days a week … it was a little bit too much,” Shelia admitted.

In time, the couple sold their Blacksburg flower shops and eventually got out of the flower business entirely.

“I never really became a designer by any stretch of the imagination, but I did enjoy all of the individuals we worked with over the years,” Shelia recounted.

After selling all of their flower shops, in 2001 Sheila went back to work for the NRV Planning District Commission, where she and others were tasked with developing the New River Valley Commerce Park by the airport.

“We talked to the landowners in trying to acquire the lands that were needed to really make that a feasible park,” said Smith. “We looked at opportunities for businesses coming in for the initial phases of the park. So we were entertaining proposals and putting together things with what, at the time, was our regional economic arm.”

Six years later, another change.

“I was approached by someone I had worked with at Virginia National back in the late 80s and he says, ‘I’m starting a community bank. Why don’t you come talk with me?’”

That talk led to Shelia Smith again entering the world of finance.

“I went into banking again, which is something I never thought I would do,” Smith recounted. “But it seemed to be the right move at the time.”

In 2006, Shelia Smith began work at the First Bank and Trust Company based out of Christiansburg.

What exactly is a “Community Bank?”

“A Community Bank is just smaller, so we’re able to make local decisions,” Smith explained. “Money is kept local, so having a community bank that has a community feel is something that people enjoy. They work with you directly. You’re not calling an 800 number, you’re actually calling and talking directly to the individuals that are serving you, day in and day out.”

Shelia Smith began working as the Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President over Commercial loans and, in that capacity, reviewed all commercial loans.

One day she said to her boss, “’You’ve talked about us continuing to grow our company. What about Pulaski County?’ The opportunity came about when Bank of America left Fairlawn. We approached the property owners and were able to work out a leasing situation with them and so we’ve been there since December of 2014.”

Today, Shelia Smith is Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager of First Bank & Trust Company in Fairlawn.

“I oversee all the activities there, from making sure that we’re fully staffed to assisting people with all types of loans … commercial, consumer and mortgages,” Smith explained.

That seems like a lot.

“Sometimes commercial bankers wear a lot of hats but it’s something that I enjoy,“ said Smith. “I enjoy being busy. I enjoy juggling things but it’s long hours, that’s for sure.”

When she’s not working, Sheila Smith enjoys kayaking or doing most any water related activity.

She and husband Al are also deeply involved in Hunters Helping Kids, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing hunting activities for children of all ages.

“We provide opportunities for youth to come to a day event where we provide them with some education in regards to hunter safety,” said Smith. “We have partners that work with us. We help support Pulaski County 4-H, because they have a shooting club.”

Shelia herself has participated in several duck hunts.

“I am a hunter but more so before my children came along,” Shelia admitted. “I always thought I would get back into it but I find a reason to not get up that early. My husband and son are still very involved in it.”

Her children remain in the area. Katlyn works at the Dublin Animal Hospital and Blake works at the Lowe’s in Princeton in the loss prevention department.

Though she has at times worked out of the area, Shelia has always remained in Pulaski County and today lives with her husband Al in Fairlawn.

“I’m proud to say I was born and raised and still live here in Pulaski County,” stated Smith. “I think it is the great place to be. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I really can’t. I have enjoyed all the jobs that I’ve had over time. I think that I’ve really been able to help people. Fortunately, my hard work, I guess, paid off because I feel like I’m in a very good place.”

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