It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Alexander (Alec) Smith, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Intel Global Beverages. magazine and previously longtime editor of IWSR Journal (formerly IWSR drink record).
Alec died after a long illness on Saturday surrounded by his family in London. He is survived by his wife Charlotte and three children, Olivia, Alex and William and will be sadly missed by his extended family, friends and colleagues.
Alec was a well-known figure in the beverage and travel retail industries, as respected as he was popular. He enjoyed a career spanning over 25 years in corporate reporting.
He grew up in New York and New Jersey and later attended the University of Virginia. While living in the UK for many years, he was very proud of his American upbringing, family and Irish-American heritage.
Before joining the IWSR, he worked at International Duty Free News where he was a close editorial contributor to Martin Moodie and Dermot Davitt, now co-owners of The Moodie Davitt Report.
As many who knew him will recall, he was also a highly skilled and passionate rugby player, coach and supporter. At Cannes, he was a regular player in the annual rugby international between the Latin Lovers and his rest of the world side, which have taken on various names over the years, including the Sexy Saxons.
Dermot Davit writes: This news is a terrible shock and will sadden many, many people in the beverage and travel retail industries who knew Alec well. In the late 1990s, he was a colleague of DFNI of Martin and I, along with my wife Michelle, John Rimmer, Rebecca Mann, Claire Wates, Amanda Felix, Trevor Lloyd-Jones and many more.
He was a respected journalist and editor there who had extensive knowledge of the beverage industry. He succeeded thanks to his tenacity, his work ethic and his curiosity for the cases he covered. He was highly respected by senior brand executives in the beverage industry, and had their trust and confidence. Over dinner at industry events, rather than talking, many listened, instead asking for his views on their own business, their rivals and the wider industry.
He was also a much-loved figure. Any social evening around our then offices in Carter Lane was the best for Alec’s presence, great storytelling and stamina to last the beat of a big night. So has every press event we’ve attended together, at home or abroad, from Hong Kong to Orlando.
As editor, for a period of DFNI where we were understaffed, I asked her to report on the jewelry category for the title. Always a pro, he did, but he made it clear that it wasn’t the best use of his talents (or frankly, his interests) and rarely missed an opportunity over the next 20 years to remind me how I had nearly derailed his rise to the top of the beverage writers league.
Later, we often met for a casual dinner or a drink on the last night in Cannes, and talked about family, rugby, politics and much more. And even as others made their way to their beds, for Alec “Anyone got a ticket to The Scene?” Smith at night was still young.
Thanks for the good memories, Al. Rest easy, my friend.
His colleagues from Intel Global Beverages. wrote a moving tribute, which readers can access in full on this link.
Other friends and colleagues also paid their respects (we’ll bring you more soon).
John Rimmer, a former colleague (and now TFWA General Manager) said: The news of Alec’s death is devastating, first for his family and children, and for all of us who are fortunate enough to know him. Many of us thought he was winning his battle with cancer, but we may have been deceived by the courage he showed during that battle. Cancer was just another opposing fly-half to flatten, and he would achieve that with his usual brutal panache.
I knew Alec first as a colleague, and soon as a friend. He was generous, often wise and, above all, funny. There was no better storyteller. By the time he got to the end of a story, the punchline no longer mattered because the listener was already dissolved in laughter.
He was also self-deprecating, an adorable trait in itself but one that sometimes obscured an important fact: that he was an excellent writer and journalist. His knowledge of the wine & spirits market has made him one of its most respected editors and commentators. Those he’s interviewed might at first be fooled by his stunning exterior, but they’ll soon know they’re dealing with a true professional, someone who knows the questions to ask and the dark corners to probe. And the resulting prose was often brilliant.
Many of my fondest memories of Alec are from trips abroad and events where we went from a little work to a lot of socializing. If I was invited to a press trip, I usually checked to see if Alec was leaving, and if he was, I would be sure to attend. His presence was a guarantee of laughter, but also of good conversation, on any subject. Alec taught me a lot about his country of origin, the United States, its greatness and its weaknesses, although he never forgot his Celtic roots. We talked a lot about politics. And of course he had a deep knowledge and passion for the sport, especially rugby.
Many travel retail players will remember Alec for what might diplomatically be called his “all-action shows” on the rugby pitch, during the annual Latins vs. Anglo-Saxons match the weekend before the event. TFWA in Cannes. Others are in a better position than me to recall Alec’s devastating physical impact during those games, which prompted the powers that be to decide that it might be best for the future of exposure if TFWA instead organized a petanque competition. Maybe we should bring rugby back now.
Alec wasn’t a saint, but no one is, and who wants to hang out with a saint anyway? He was funny, brave and smart, and the world was a happier place for his presence. He was immensely proud of his family who, I hope, will find some comfort in the love his many friends had for him.
Rest in peace Al, el Leon de Habana. And thank you very much.
CEO of Kavanagh Communications Anne Kavanagh commented: I’m beyond sad that we lost Alex. A true gentle giant of a man. So nice. So funny. So unique. So much heart and so smart. I have dozens of memories of this wonderful human. Always a true professional to work with, but he was so much more than that. Above all a great and faithful friend, also my big brother who has always watched over me, a fascinating companion on a hectic transatlantic flight, the liveliness embodied in the bars of Tijuana to the private islands of the Caribbean and from Abu Dhabi to Aberdeenshire , we had many, many interesting conversations and lots of laughs.
It makes it all the more unfathomable that the world lost too soon in a wonderful human being so full of energy, liveliness, verve, pure kindness and pure passion for life. Like many others, I am heartbroken and my heart goes out to his family at such a sad time. I hope they will be reassured to know what a positive impact Alex has had on his GTR family and how much he will be missed. RIP big man.
Long-time travel beverage retail executive Richard Ferne said (via Facebook): RIP, Alex. A good friend since he started in the duty free industry. A great guy and a great journalist. Had the pleasure of being with him in several countries and being his team captain in our annual Rest of the World rugby match against France for several years in Cannes.
My fondest memory being when Alex was his usual fighting self and clearly on the verge of being kicked out of the game after several physical disagreements with the French. The referee (John Sutcliffe) suggested that I replace Alex out of the game, before he sends him off. Beautiful memories of a brave man.
Martin Moodie writes: Alec – always Big Al to me – was a colleague, rugby teammate, fellow journalist and wine and spirits enthusiast. And since May 6, 2020 at 5:31 p.m. via a simple Messenger note on Facebook, someone has been trying to help get through cancer. “I’m in and out of the hospital these days. Get lots of tests. Probably cancer. Probably start chemo later next week. Not great, but you just have to deal with it. And with that trademark understatement, Alec got to work on it.
“I just have to face it and do what I have to do,” he said. Over the next two years, he gave me regular updates via Messenger and sometimes calls. Some carried good news, some less so, many were funny. “I’m on a drip. I was hooked up to an IV for eight hours yesterday. It was like going on a long-haul flight without the movies,” he wrote of starting chemo.
“Not too long ago I was out there in Cannes trying to lead the Moodie Crazy Chicken Thigh Support Lines. I never knew where you were going. I guess the defenses felt the same – LOL,” he said of the weariness of the treatment,
He was honest about his fight like only Big Al could be. “I oscillate between extreme pessimism and hope. You know me, I’m mentally strong, I just like knowing I have a chance. He took that chance like he used to take the opposition to inside backs on the rugby pitch, giving them a job and leaving them in his wake. I was forever grateful to be on his team in Cannes and not play against him. Hard as teak on the pitch, sweet as hell outside.
Gave him his best shot and more. When he received an encouraging medical report, he gave the oncologist a very Big Al gift, a bottle of Chivas 18 Year Old. And then on Christmas Day 2021, this: “I’m doing great. Ready to come back to life. The doc said I had a full response with no signs of cancer – TODAY. He said go ahead and enjoy your life. I will continue to be scanned every 14 weeks and hope my luck continues.
Big Al’s luck didn’t hold. We mourn it and mourn it and will no doubt celebrate it at the right time, perhaps in Cannes. We are thinking of his family and his colleagues at Global Drinks Intel. and remember a man who put a smile on so many faces; who was funny, warm and behind that beautiful, almost monotonous sled (“Hey Bro, what’s up?”), wise. A good journalist and an even better human being.
To note: Readers can add their tributes via the DISQUS platform below.