Founder’s Corner

The Smith Scholarship Foundation, established by Avondale Mills heiress Mignon Comer Smith, invests in the college education of economically disadvantaged students across the state.

     According to civil rights activist Virginia Foster Durr, there were three paths a privileged Southern woman could follow.  She could live the unexamined life of a Southern belle.  She could lose her mind and go crazy. Or she could honor her rebellious spirit, “step outside the magic circle” and blaze a new path into a world she would have otherwise never known.   

     Leading an examined life is precisely the unexpected path chosen by Avondale Mills heiress Mignon Comer Smith, who died of a heart attack at the age of 81 while working at her desk two years ago.

     An avid horsewoman, in 1954 Smith became the youngest Joint Master of the Fox Hounds in the United States, notorious in the horse world for sporting the pink collar traditionally worn by men, instead of wearing black typically worn by women.

Mignon's 1978 Cadillac
Mignon’s 1978 Cadillac

     A budding entrepreneur, during her early 20s, this Sylacauga native established the first English-style riding school in Alabama. She also created a pony club for young riders, often providing access and resources for the underprivileged to ride.

     She owned a stud farm, now known as Mede Cahaba Stables and Stud LLC, and later became an outspoken proponent of horse track racing in Birmingham.  -more

Mignon C. Smith was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in a small town near Birmingham.  Her father, J. Craig Smith, was head of Avondale Mills, a large textile company manufacturing mostly denim cloth and cotton yarn. She attended public school in Sylacauga through the ninth grade and then graduated from the Madeira School in Virginia near Washington, DC, and later, Briarcliff Junior College at Briarcliff Manor, New York with an AA. She transferred to the University of Alabama as a junior to major in political science and journalism.

In 1954 Mignon became the youngest Joint Master of Fox Hounds in the United States.  After she was bestowed this honor, she ordered her new riding jacket, selecting a pink collar instead of the traditional black worn by the English lady hunt masters.  She was chided for this bold diversion from the normal attire.  She admits this was an unusual move in a pre-women’s lib era, but she responded that she wanted to “brighten up the Alabama hunt scene.”

After college, she started a riding school and small stud farm south of Birmingham. 027When her farm lease ran out she moved to Washington, DC with a nucleus of her thoroughbred breeding stock where she became a radio news reporter for Alabama stations. After retiring from radio reporting, she devoted her full attention to thoroughbred breeding, racing, and sport business.  She managed over 65 head of homebreds in three states, all boarded out.

Mignon was a member of the Congressional Radio/TV Galleries, National Press Club and SPJ. She was a White House correspondent and was in the White House Press Room the night President Nixon resigned. Mignon retired as Washington correspondent for the Alabama Radio Network after reporting news with and about Alabamians for some thirty years.

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In 2005 Mignon endowed The Foundation in her father and mother’s names, the J. Craig and Page T. Smith Scholarship Foundation, to provide full tuition for Alabama high school seniors to attend Alabama colleges. A minimum C+ grade average and civic involvement and/or special family responsibility is required. A minimum grade of C+ is necessary to continue the four year scholarship.

Also in 2005, The Mignon C. Smith Living Trust endowed The J. Craig Smith Chair for Integrity in Business through the University of Alabama Donor Advised Fund that provided funding for programs in the University of Alabama Business Department and Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. Mignon was concerned about the loss of integrity in the current generation of business and hoped the programs at the University of Alabama would become a catalyst to teach the ethics that her father ascribed to in business to our future leaders.

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