Longtime Food Lion executive Tom Smith dies

A Food Lion grocery store sign. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Tom Smith, the former CEO leader of Food Lion, died following a long battle with a terminal illness, the Salisbury Post reported.

Smith famously started his career with the company, known at the time as Food Town, as a bagger in high school and college. He graduated from Catawba College in 1964 with a degree in business administration and spent more than six years with Del Monte Sales Co. before returning to the Food Lion fold in 1970 as a buyer in the corporate office.

In January 1986 he became CEO of Food Lion, replacing founder Ralph Ketner. Smith steered Food Lion on the same course as Ketner had, stressing low prices and efficient service. The company topped the $2 billion sales mark at the end of Smith’s first year as CEO.

He announced his retirement from the company in 1999 after the company grew to more than 1,000 stores and more than 100,000 employees.

“After almost 30 years of dedication and hard work, it is time to retire and give the company a new management team to lead it into the next millennium,” Smith said at the time in a prepared statement. “I can think of no better time to make these changes than the present, as Food Lion is in excellent shape, financially and operationally.

Ronnie Smith, a long friend and 50-year co-worker, said Tom Smith was “a pioneer and a legend. He was instrumental in leading Food Town, now known as Food Lion, becoming one of the largest, most successful food store chains in the country,” according to the outlet.

“A lot of people think we are brothers,” said Ronnie Smith, “and that would have been great, but we are actually not related. Our offices were next to each other, and we worked together for many years, but Tom deserves so much of the credit for the success of the company, and he deserves recognition for all that he has done for Salisbury and for Rowan County through the years. This is a huge loss for Salisbury, for Rowan County, for the state and for the country.”

Smith was active in the community as well, serving as Chairman of the Board of trustees of Catawba College. He served on the Board of Governors of the Children’s Miracle Network and served as Chairman of the Board of Governors in 1996. He was an active member of the North Carolina Business Council of Management and Development and previously served on the Board of Directors for the United Way.

He has received a number of honors and awards from the business and civic communities including: the Bronze and Silver CEO of the Year Award from Financial World Magazine in 1987 and 1992, the Bronze CEO of the Year Award in 1996, the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award and the Civic Achievement Award from the National Council on Aging and the Easter Seals Award for individual leadership.

The family is working with Summersett Funeral Home but arrangements are pending.