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With profound sadness we report the passing of Alexander (Alec) Smith, Founder & Editor of Global Drinks Intel. magazine and previously the long-term Editor of IWSR Magazine (formerly IWSR Drinks Record).

Alec passed away 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 much missed by his wider family, friends and colleagues.

Alec Smith, ‘Big Al’ – funny, courageous and intelligent

A poignant message from Alec’s daughter Olivia announcing her father’s passing. Click to enlarge.

Alec was a well-known figure in the drinks and travel retail sectors, as respected as he was popular. He enjoyed a career of more than 25 years reporting on the business.

He grew up in New York and New Jersey and later attended the University of Virginia. While he lived in the UK for many years, he took great pride in his American upbringing, family and Irish-American heritage.

Before he joined IWSR, he worked at Duty-Free News International where he was a close editorial colleague of 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. In Cannes he was a regular player in the annual rugby ‘international’ between the Latin Lovers and his rest of the world side which went by various names over the years including the Sexy Saxons.

Dermot Davitt writes: This news comes as a terrible shock and will sadden many, many people in the drinks and travel retail sectors who knew Alec well. In the late 1990s, he was a colleague at DFNI of Martin and I, as well as my wife Michelle, John Rimmer, Rebecca Mann, Claire Wates, Amanda Felix, Trevor Lloyd-Jones and many others.

There he was a respected journalist and editor who possessed a deep knowledge of the drinks sector. He succeeded through his tenacity, work ethics and curiosity about the business he covered. He was highly respected by senior brand executives in the drinks sector, and had their confidence and their trust. Over dinner at industry events, rather than talking, many listened, asking instead for his views on their own business, about their rivals and about the wider sector.

He was a much-loved figure too. Any social evening around our then offices in Carter Lane was the best for Alec’s presence, great story-telling and stamina to last the pace of a big night out. So too was every press event that we attended together, at home or abroad, from Hong Kong to Orlando.

As Editor, during a period at DFNI where we were short-staffed, I asked him to report on the jewelery category for the title. Ever the pro, he did so, but he made clear that this was not the best use of his talents (or frankly, interests) and rarely missed an opportunity in the subsequent 20 years to remind me how I had almost derailed his rise to the top of the drinks writers’ league.

In later years, we often met for a relaxed dinner or drinks on the final night in Cannes, and talk family, rugby, politics and much more. And even as others were heading for their beds, for Alec “Anyone got a ticket for The Scene?” Smith the night was ever young.

Thanks for the great memories, Al. Rest easy, friend.

His colleagues at Global Drinks Intel. wrote a moving tribute, which readers can access in full at this link.

Other friends and colleagues have also been paying tribute (we will bring you more soon).

John Rimmer, a former colleague (and now TFWA Managing Director) said: The news of Alec’s death is devastating, firstly for his family and children, and for all of us lucky enough to know him. Many of us thought that he was winning his battle with cancer, but we were perhaps disappointed by the courage he showed during that battle. Cancer was just another opponent fly-half to flatten, and he would manage it with his usual brutal panache.

I knew Alec first as a colleague, and soon as a friend. He was generous, often wise and, especially, funny. There was no better storyteller. By the time he got to the end of a story, the punchline no longer mattered as the listener was already dissolved in laughter.

He was also self-deprecating, a lovable trait in itself but one that occasionally obscured an important fact: that he was an excellent writer and journalist. His knowledge of the wines & spirits market made him one of his most respected editors and commentators. Those he interviewed might be initially fooled by his bluff exterior, but they would soon know they were dealing with a true professional, one who knew the questions to ask and the dark corners to probe. And the resulting prose was often brilliant.

Many of my fondest memories of Alec date from trips abroad and events where we would blend a little work with a lot of socializing. If I was invited on a press trip, I would usually check if Alec was going, and if that was the case, I would be sure to attend. His presence was a guarantee of laughter, but also of good conversation, about any topic. Alec taught me a lot about his home country, the USA, its greatness and its weaknesses, although he never forgot his Celtic roots. We argued a lot about politics. And of course, he had a keen knowledge of and passion for sport, most notably rugby.

Many in travel retail will remember Alec for what mightally be called his “all-action displays” on the rugby field, in the annual match between Latins and the Anglo-Saxons on the diplomatic weekend preceding the TFWA event in Cannes. Others are better placed than I to recall Alec’s devastating physical impact at these games, which prompted the powers-that-be to decide that it might be better for the future of the Exhibition if TFWA held a pétanque competition instead. Maybe we should bring back the rugby now.

Alec was no saint, but no-one is, and anyway, who wants to spend time with a saint? He was funny, courageous and intelligent, and the world was a happy place for his presence. He was immensely proud of his family, who I hope will find some solace in the love his many friends had for him.

Rest in peace Al, el Leon de Habana. And thank you, so much.

Kavanagh Communications CEO Anne Kavanagh commented: I’m beyond sad than we’ve lost Alex. A true gentle giant of a man. So kind. So funny. So unique. So much heart and so very intelligent. 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 loyal friend, also my big brother who always looked out for me, a fascinating companion on a turbulent transatlantic flight, vivacity personified in bars from Tijuana to private islands in the Caribbean and Abu Dhabi to Aberdeenshire, we had many, many interesting conversations and a whole load of laughs.

It makes it all the more unfathomable that the world has lost so much too soon in a wonderful human so full of energy, vivacity, verve, pure kindness and downright passion for life. Like many others, I am utterly heartbroken and my heart goes out to his family at such a sad time I hope they will have some comfort in knowing what a positive impact Alex made in his GTR family and how sorely he will be missed. RIP big man.

Long-time senior travel retail drinks executive Richard Ferne said (via Facebook): RIP, Alex. A good friend since he started in the duty free industry. A great guy and great journalist. Had the pleasure of his company in several countries and being his team captain at our annual Rest of The World vs France rugby match for several years in Cannes.

My fondest memory being when Alex was his usual combative self and clearly about to be ejected from the game after several physical disagreements with the French. The referee (John Sutcliffe) suggests I substitute Alex out of the game, before he sent him off. Great memories of a courageous man.

Martin Moodie writes: Alec – Big Al always to me – was a colleague, a rugby team mate, a comrade journo and a fellow wine & spirits aficionado. And since the sixth of May 2020 at 17.31 via a simple Messenger note on Facebook, someone to try to help through cancer. “I’m in and out of the hospital these days. Getting a lot of tests. Probably cancer. Probably starting chemo later next week. Not great, but just have to deal with it.” And with that trademark understatement, Alec just set about dealing with it.

“I just have to front up and do what I have to do,” he said. Over the next two and a bit years he’d give me regular updates via Messenger and sometimes calls. Some bore good news, some not so, many were funny. “I’m on the infusion. I was hooked up to a drip for eight hours yesterday. It was like going on a long haul flight without the movies,” he wrote of starting chemo.

“It wasn’t too long ago I was out there in Cannes trying to run support lines off crazy chicken legs Moodie. I never had any idea where you were going. I guess defenses felt the same way – LOL,” he said of the wearing effect of the treatment,

He was honest about his battle as only Big Al could be. “I sort of swing between extreme pessimism and hope. You know me, I’m mentally tough, just like to know that I’m in with a chance.” He seized that chance the way he used to seize opposition inside backs on the rugby field, give them a working over and leave them in his sizable wake. I was eternally thankful to be on his team in Cannes and not playing against him. Tough as teak on the field, gentle as hell off it.

Gave it his best shot and then some. When he got an encouraging medical report he gave the oncologist a very Big Al kind of gift, a bottle of Chivas 18 Year Old. And then on Christmas Day 2021, this: “I’m doing very well. Ready to get on with life. The doc said I had a full response with no evidence of cancer – TODAY. He said go and enjoy your life. I’m going to continue to be scanned every 14 weeks and hope my luck holds out.”

Big Al’s luck didn’t hold out. We mourn and grieve him and will no doubt at the right moment, perhaps in Cannes, celebrate him. We think of his family and of 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 magnificent almost monotone drawl (“Hey Bro, what’s up?), wise. A fine journalist and an even better human being.

Note: Readers can add their tributes via the DISQUS platform below.

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